Chapter 14: Homecoming
Chapter 14: Homecoming
Another comparison has occurred to me in our stories Joshua. You commandeered a boat to get to the mainland and head home. Kaeza and I stole a medical helicopter that arrived at the disaster to get the frozen body to Taerose.
I don’t make this comparison to draw similarities but rather differences. I’m pragmatic. Your moral compass is a roulette wheel.
Go on and blame your youth, but you never quite got rid of that wild streak. Always so unpredictable.
The behemoth airship skirted the ground and dropped Joshua, Kael, and Gianna off before the engines heaved to and scorched black holes into the ground. Within seconds it was lost to view. The three stood in barren plane miles from the nearest town. The trip had been short but managed to save them about a week at the pace they traveled.
Joshua stood arms crossed staring at Kael who noticed something was off but didn’t care on the whole. He directed the group north and began their march.
“Your home is around here?” Gianna asked, stumbling to keep up. Kael was basically trotting.
“You and Josh both think I’m an idiot don’t you?” Kael chuckled. “I wasn’t about to have that guy drop us at our house. And I can deal with them if they become a problem.” He wasn’t speaking to Gianna anymore.
“At least we are close right?” Gianna asked. Joshua and Kael both laughed; Gianna’s face twitched in annoyance.
The trek continued ever onward. Joshua, Kael, and Gianna’s dragged their feet through the short, winter-dry grass to a lonely dirt road. They had entered far land and Gianna’s continence perked up every time they passed a farmhouse.
Joshua wished they were there already.
As the fourteenth hour of noon approached, the sun broke through the dismal clouds and shed a few rays of light on the weary travelers. All the same, their journey continued. In time the path they walked twisted to their left and the gentle sounds of water soon met their ears. Not long after, a stream joined beside them.
A short break ensued, and everyone took a cool sip of water. After splashing some water over their dirty faces and feeling a little more refreshed, they walked back to the road and continued on. Looking up from their path, they could see in the distance a line of trees where the stream joined with another and became more of a river. The group pressed their march forward and off the road into the forest. In time, the two moons rose in the sky joined by a multitude of stars. With the trees looming quite close and the night stretching before them, the brush on the ground thickened with some rough shrubs that could survive year-round. The river continued and the group continued to follow it. Gianna asked whether they were lost, but Kael and Joshua adamantly insisted that they knew exactly where they were going, which, if true, may have been a first for them since she had joined up. As they moved through the woods, they lost sight of the first moon and then the second. Those had been their clock. They’d have to wait to dawn to get their bearings.
Gianna looked up to the sky and sighed. “It’s going to be another night of sleeping on the ground isn’t it?”
“Forget where we sleep, we need food. I haven’t eaten in…” Joshua paused and held up his emaciated arm. “Well, it’s been a while. And either way it doesn’t matter,” he added, “we are practically there.”
“It’s been a while?” Gianna said aghast. “You ate on the airplane. They gave you free rein of the kitchen.”
“It’s a fast ship. I didn’t have that much time. And they were all watching me. I’m a self-conscious eater.” Thinking back to the ship it struck Joshua. “I suppose we need to talk about our family. We were going to tell you eventually.”
“About being Taerose princes. About your dad being the Emperor and leader of the Dark Element?”
“In all fairness,” Kael said from the front of the pack, “we only learned he lead the Dark Element right after the wave. That was surprising to us too.”
“What makes it surprising? You clearly think he’s a monster.”
“He is a monster, make no mistake about that. But he isn’t a Syche.”
Joshua said, “It’s why we dismissed him before. He was obsessed with Syches but never had the gift himself. More to the point: I’m just worried our relationship with him might bother you in some way.”
“I don’t understand,” Gianna said in her strange way.
Joshua didn’t want to explain, but he couldn’t leave it unaddressed either. “Our dad is responsible for the Dark Element. Being part of that organization couldn’t have been easy for you.”
“No. I loved it there,” she said flat, uninterested.
Joshua and Kael exchanged glances. “That’s. . . sarcasm?” Joshua asked.
“Of course. Did that not come across? I guess sarcasm doesn’t translate well to speech.”
Kael fell back beside Joshua and whispered, “Nothing she says translates well to speech.”
Sometime later, they followed the river into an artificial clearing. The top of the second moon just crested in a gap of the trees to the south. The ground was lifeless dirt, and small craters littered the landscape. Chunks of jagged sheet metal stuck out in odd ends. It looks like the sight of a disaster or even a battlefield. Joshua looked around, a smile curling on the edges of his mouth.
The next plunge into the dark woods was short lived. In minutes time, they stood on the edge of a hill looking down on a little valley. The river cut through the middle. Directly down in front of them was a house and farm, and spaced out further along the valley were more houses and farming patches. A single gravel road started at the house closest to them and wove alongside the river into the darkness some ways away.
Gianna looked at the valley and back to Joshua and Kael. And on and on she went. Joshua was aware of her constant observation but wasn’t sure what he could say, let alone what he should say. He almost lied and told her they were now halfway there, instead he chose honesty for a change. Joshua nodded down the hill. “The closest one right there. That’s ours.”
They walked in silence and approached the first house in the little valley. The building was two stories tall and a decent size. Stone had been crafted into the foundation and the rest of the building was wooden. The slats of wood running horizontally along the building had all been painted white, but it was sloppily done and the paint had faded. All of the windows on the top story were darkened, and out of the six windows spanning the back of the building on the ground floor, only one was lit, curtains blocking whatever lay beyond. Surrounding the building were barren farming fields, waiting for winter to end, accompanied by a faded brown barn that would have looked just as brown in the daylight. As they circled around to the front, there was a small wooden porch with steps leading up.
Joshua looked to the nearest house, almost a quarter-mile away to see if its lights were on. He had no idea how late it was. Sure, you could look at the moons, but that never seemed to work for him. They’d appear when the sun was out. They’d disappear during the night. And their schedule changed as much as Joshua found himself running for his life (which was a lot even before the current adventure).
All three walked up the steps and waited as Kael grabbed the door handle and pushed. The door swung open and the group was greeted by a dimly lit hallway. A file of stairs was situated on the right side of the corridor that led to the second floor. The faint light that penetrated the hallway came from a room to the left. Joshua, Kael, and Gianna entered the hearth and walked towards the light.
A long, rectangular dining table took up most of the room here with eight wooden chairs spaced around it. The light in the room radiated from a lantern situated in the center of the table. A light fixture hung from the ceiling, but that was apparently too much for this time of night. At the head of the table sat an ancient woman. Her silvery hair was bundled at the back in a bun. Wrinkles covered her face and her hands which were resting on an equally ancient book; its pages were stiff and yellow like her. Small, circular glasses were pushed onto the bridge of her nose. This woman sat deathly still, a bad sign for one so old.
The flames in the lantern licked the sides for a few seconds as no one made a sound. Finally, Kael cleared his throat, a deafening sound in the sleepy house. The woman jerked awake and let the book fall from her fingers and slam into the ground. She tilted her head up and looked at the travelers that just entered the room. A thin smile broke across her face. “It’s been two months, but you have finally returned,” her voice crackled kindly. “Just as successful in your hunt as ever I see.”
Joshua looked confused at Kael. “Dude. I thought we were gone for weeks, not months.”
“Oh, I wish,” Kael said.
The old woman’s smile faded now as she squinted at the group. “And where did your packs go? Don’t tell me you’ve been wearing those clothes for the entire trip,” her words rang out severely. “When was the last time you’ve had a decent meal?”
“Oh I think we left them in Tyré,” Kael answered. “Don’t worry; we didn’t lose that many things.” He paused considering his own words. “Actually, I’m not sure what happened to our phones, but that’s the reason we get the cheap ones right?”
“I see. . . .” the old woman said looking from Joshua and Kael, her eyes passing over Gianna as if she wasn’t there. “First thing first I suppose.” A thin stream of red liquid snaked from under the table and then darted through the air past Joshua, Gianna, and Kael and up the stairs into the dark. No sooner than the black string of blood disappeared than the sound of a door slamming shut from above sounded and a series of thuds as someone rushed down the stairs.
“Joshua! Kael!” a girl’s voice hollered as two arms grabbed Kael from behind and held him in an embrace.
“Hey Avonly,” Kael and Josh greeted back as the girl let go of Kael and latched onto Joshua now.
The newcomer was about the same age as Gianna but stood on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of appearance. Her hair was a golden blond and short at the bangs with a ponytail at the back. Her eyes had a dark brown tint to them and full of life. She held herself exactly the same way as Joshua and Kael did, arms crossed and with a wide stance when she finally settled down.
Avonly looked to Gianna finally and smiled. “And what’s your name? Kael and Joshua have probably already told you all about their family, but I’m Avonly.”
Gianna breathed a sigh of relief glad that someone was finally recognizing her existence. She had nightmares that she was a ghost; it was a reoccurring fear. “I’m Gianna and it’s nice to meet you. Unfortunately though, Josh and Kael have failed to mention anything about any of you.”
Avonly bit her lip and looked up at the two boys. “Oh really?” she grunted. “Well there’ll be plenty of time tomorrow to get you back for that I suppose.” She gave the two a wink.
“Ahem,” the old woman interrupted. “How about you get in the kitchen and get some food. They haven’t eaten in. . . oh who knows how long with these two. They look sickly.”
Avonly shook her head in disappointment and then disappeared through the door right behind the old lady. No sooner had she disappeared than another set of steps could be heard upstairs. They rang out through the rickety house staggered and uneven. Coming down the stairs was another girl a little younger than Avonly. The tether of blood the old lady had conducted upstairs cuffed around her wrist and pulled her down the stairs forcefully as she reluctantly tugged against it. Right behind her was another girl much younger than the other two. She was half her sister’s height and kept on her heels as they came down the stairs. The older girl looked like a younger, female version of Kael-- dark hair, piercing black eyes. Muttering an unintelligible mess, she finally grated to a stop in front of the gang before the tether of water let go. The girl behind had yet to hit double digits. She had golden blond hair like her sister but it was allowed to grow much longer with waves. She looked cautiously at Gianna as she crept into her sister’s shadow and looked at her brothers. The old woman peered over her spectacles at the raven-haired girl.
“Alma and Noel,” Kael presented. “As you may have already figured out, Alma doesn’t like being woken up.”
“Does anyone?” Joshua asked, rolling his eyes
“And I am Agassa,” the old woman at the front of the table spoke up. “Come sit down everyone while we wait. Tell me why you have brought a member of the Dark Element to our house.”
Kael and Joshua looked at each other wide-eyed and surprised but obeyed all the same. It was a simple act of obedience, but it shocked Gianna all the same. Her face betrayed no sign, but she was startled to see Joshua or Kael showing deference to anybody. Gianna, however, stood. “How do you know about me?”
“Simple child,” Agassa said while scowling at her with penetrating eyes. “Your sleeve has a rip in it and when you first came in I saw that stain on the underside of your arm. Now sit,” the woman commanded coldly, pointing to a chair.
“No worries Teach,” Joshua said, lazily looking at the kitchen door hopeful for food. “She’s ex Dark Element.”
“More importantly,” Kael said angrily, “how do you know about them, and why haven’t you mentioned a word about them for all these years?”
“The Dark Element was being restructured by the Emperor around the time we all left Taerose; some of the Syches connected with the noble houses such as Mal and I were to be new Commanders,” Agassa finished with a very tired appearance now across her face. “I am going to bed now. I figured you would get involved in your father’s business, but, as always, I disapprove,” she said sliding off her chair and picking up a simple wooden cane and the book she dropped from the ground next to her. Now that she was standing her full measure could be taken and she was quite short. All four and a half feet of the ancient woman slowly made her way from the room leaning on her cane and down the hall, disappearing in the darkness.
“Oh, Serians too,” Joshua shouted after her. “Gonna need to talk about them.” Joshua gave an exasperated look to Alma and Noel, sitting snugly next to each other. Alma in turned stared him down while Noel rested her head against Alma’s arm, apparently asleep.
Soon, the door to the kitchen opened again, and Avonly emerged holding three plates with a baked potato on each. Joshua looked at the vegetables then back to his sister. “A potato, really?” he questioned. “We haven’t eaten in three days and that’s the best you could do?”
She looked back to Joshua as she laid down the three plates in front of them. “I’m teaching you a lesson about fiscal responsibility,” she said snippily. “Next time, don’t lose your stuff, budget your money better, and don’t do whatever you did this time. Bring me along alternatively, I volunteer as treasurer.” She strode over to Joshua and poked at the small scar that had formed on the side of his forehead. It had healed well after being hit with a rock in Tyré.
She pulled up an empty seat and plopped down, eager to hear about their travels.
Joshua looked at his food a little disappointed then picked it up for a bite. “Owww!” he yelled as he dropped the potato back on his plate. “Hot, hot, hot.”
Alma shook her head in utter disbelief, grabbed Noel’s hand, and dragged the both of them back upstairs making a rude hand gesture. Joshua laughed internally. He couldn’t wait to see Gianna’s reaction the next day when she realized Alma was the exact same fully rested.
Avonly was rather disappointed when they decided to just tell their story in the morning, once everyone was listening. Joshua and Kael created a makeshift bed on the sofa that could be fixed in the morning. They trudged upstairs and into the room they shared. Joshua felt dirty, slimy, but was too tired to shower so he lay on top of the sheets. Kael swiftly swaddled himself into comfort. Joshua plopped his head down on the pillow and the faint memory of what a bed felt like returned to him. He blew out his lamp then stared at the ceiling.
They were both asleep in seconds.
Joshua awoke with a start, bolt upright, an hour later. He clutched his head as a splitting migraine dug through his brain. In the moonlight coming from the windows, Joshua dragged himself out of bed and paced the floor. When the pain almost subsided, he ambled over to the window and looked outside to the dimming night. Standing a distance away in the moonlight stood a figure. He couldn’t make out any features, but a person was definitely there.
Without a second to lose, Joshua bolted from the room still only wearing his pants. He rocketed down the stairs as quietly as those two idea could go together and yanked open the front door. In one leap, he had cleared the porch and sprinted to the side of the house. He stopped right where the figure had been standing, but it was no longer there. Joshua peered around the farmlands for a hint of this mysterious person but didn’t see anything. Then he looked up the hill to the forest and spied the shadowy figure. Joshua sprinted to the top of the hill, wincing as the soles of his feet pounded on pointed sticks and rocks as the shadow disappeared inside the trees. Undaunted, Joshua chased harder. He couldn’t see his quarry, but he didn’t care. He felt that he was moving in the right direction. Joshua burst through the trees into the perfect circular clearing. The subtle hum of the river rang through the night, and right in the middle of the clearing was who he was chasing.
“Quit running and tell me who you are!” Joshua yelled at him furious.
He blinked and the shadow was gone. He paced around impatiently, looking around. There was certainly no sign of anything. Come to think of it, he hadn’t heard any kind of sound ahead of him as he chased down the unknown figure either.
A feeling hung in the pit of his stomach. One he had felt once before, but he just couldn’t place it.