Syche: The Dark Element

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Chapter 15; The Rasgards

Chapter 15: The Rasgards

The King-Emperor of Taerose did not greet us when we landed. One of your siblings did. Some of your half-siblings too.

Would they not flee and become a Rasgard as well, or did you even ask?

###

At the first light of day, Kael opened one eye to see Joshua silently pacing the length of the bedroom, mouth moving and making the shape of words. Not worth me asking.

Swinging his feet over the bedside, he stood up, flicked Joshua in the side of the head, and trotted down the stairs and into the kitchen. He grabbed an apple out of the fruit basket and took giant bites eating a quarter at a time as he grabbed six eggs. Scrambled and fried, he ate looking through the window admiring the warm colors of the day.

Once he was finished with his breakfast, Kael walked over to the front door just in time to catch Joshua coming down the stairs. “Ready for our morning run?”

Joshua’s left eye twitched and then he answered: “Up all night. Weird stuff. Taking the day off. Still sore from head to toe from our adventure anyway.”

“Okay,” Kael hung on to the word thinking. “You sure? You never miss an opportunity to show me up.” Shrugging his shoulders, Joshua waved him off as he turned the corner and disappeared further into the house towards the study.

Kael went on a light jog to the nearest town and back. It was uncomfortable feeling his muscles groaning at every footfall. His ankle griped when pressure was placed on it. He thought he had rolled it at some point in his fight with Zagan. He had all sorts of kinks and pains that came with that kind of experience, and he knew he was better off than Gianna or Joshua.

Arriving back, Kael walked past the dining room where Joshua sat across from Avonly eating a giant plate of eggs and sausage while spinning tales of their adventure. He studied his brother. A little worse for wear, bumps and scrapes on his face and arms were healing. The large scrape on his forehead would leave a mark for a while. After a few more seconds staring, he couldn’t decide what was off about Joshua and shrugged it off.

They needed time to decompress, heal, and rest. Everyone would be back to themselves in a matter of time.

“Hey,” Avonly caught him, as he began to walk away, “you’ll have to tell me about your battle against the Blood Syche.”

“I’m the one who ended up beating him though,” Joshua leaned back in his chair basking in his own greatness before tipping it a tad too far and tumbling to the ground.

Kael wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or not, it certainly sounded like a slight. Mulling it over, he knew he should drop it or Joshua would bring up the several other times he had outdone him on the trip. There was absolutely no way to account for the difference in luck between them.

Cleaning up, Kael stomped back downstairs and turned left to the study. Agassa sat in a chair with her cane across her lap. Next to her, Gianna sat in the only other chair in the room, and the two were talking. Kael walked to the bookcases lined with a buffet of books: novels, journals, reference material.

“Good morning Kael,” Gianna said, happily.

“Morning,” Kael grunted. He stole a glance as they began talking again. She seemed better off than he or Joshua. Did she really have a concussion? The more he thought about it, the more he was sure he couldn’t use an iota of his powers with a head injury. He eyed Gianna up in down. Not in the way a teenage boy normally would but in careful study. They had let her tag along back to their home and practically join the family, but he wasn’t sure he knew who she was yet. Then again, he wasn’t sure she knew that either.

“Yes, good morning Kael,” Agassa said catching his stare and looking quite sagely with her glasses resting on her wrinkled nose. “Gianna has been telling me all morning about what you’ve been up to since she met you. I’ll save you the obvious critiques and simply ask how much you know about this Ell. The whole story seems off.”

Kael looked back to Agassa amused then continued to look for his book while he answered. “I was hoping to talk to you about Seriah-- obviously.” Kael’s face lit up as his fingers closed on a large atlas. He sat down criss-cross and laid it on the dusty old rug in front of him.

Agassa looked over her glasses at Kael. “Don’t brush this off, boy. I’ve been alive long enough to have a few horror stories about Seriah. I wouldn’t trust them any more than Taerose.”

“And yet you worked for my dad for how many years?” Kael immediately looked down to his book realizing he shouldn’t have said that.

He could feel her cold stare on him now. Instead, he focused on the maps before him. The continents of Yatala was perfectly laid out with towns, cities, capitals, and natural features perfectly represented in faded ink. Taerose sat starkly on the eastern side taking up almost half the land. It was an old map. A new one would have some of the islands and southeast plains added to Taerose’s borders. The newest ones would have Tyré.

Seriah took up more than half of its continent to the west, but even the map was unsure just how big it was. They were always in a dispute about some speck of land; it was in the news all the time. Kael couldn’t remember any stories where it seemed like they were in the wrong. They were absolutely no Taerose. He refused to believe any nation could be as despicable as his father.

The southern hemisphere had Malengua and Clouthous. Neither continent was entirely important as far as he could see. Malengua was backwoods, underdeveloped, and a bit too poor for the rest of the world. No one lived on Clouthous. This large slab of land floated in the sky uncharted and unexplored. Scientists would tell you it was some extreme form of magnetism. Kael had always expected it was some form of Sychakentic energy. Now that he thought about Emile explaining Sy fields, this seemed even more likely. Lightening? Actually, that made sense with the magnetism and the cataclysmic storms always surrounding the continent.

Focusing on his work, Bartholomew had said the Book was in Dania, but he later clarified that it was in the Eula desert. Apparently Dania wouldn’t show up on any maps. After thumbing over to the country of Euclasia on the southwest of Yatala and looking at the Eula, Kael agreed.

“I’m going to head in to the library tomorrow and see what I can find on the computer,” Kael said closing the book. “Not in here.”

“This time you are taking me with you.”

Kael spun on the spot, trying to find the voice that had joined the conversation without welcome. Leaning against the door, his sister Avonly stood lazily back, arms crossed over her chest. If Alma was to be believed, she didn’t act like that when they were away. As if posture could make a sixteen-year-old blond girl barely pushing five foot five look tough. “To the library?” he answered back dismissively, once again inspecting the book.

“To the desert, apparently.” Avonly pointed to Gianna. “Is she going with you?”

“Up to her,” Kael answered hesitantly. “But yes?”

Gianna went from watching plain-faced to squirming with the attention on her. “Sounds like me going was already decided,” she said forcefully. As Avonly looked over, Gianna placed her eye line directly at her feet.

Turning back on Kael, Avonly smiled. “If I beat her in a sparring match, I get to come.”

“Sparring means no killing… right?” Gianna asked looking up, a tinge of disappointment in her voice.

Hesitantly considering what Gianna just said, Kael quickly recovered: “Beat me in a fight and you get to come.”

“Alright,” she agreed. “Let’s do it right now.”

He should have known. Of course she would want to fight. “Are you serious? I just got back. Give me a few days to recover.”

“Meet you there,” she said leaving the room, the ponytail whipping in a twist behind her.

With a stunned look on his face, Kael looked to Agassa. “Why is she so confident?”

Leaning back in her chair, Agassa chuckled a little. “She’s been working hard every day for the past two months so you would finally take her on your next trip. I’ll come up later, but you two can have your match now.”

Kael stood up and headed towards the exit. “Not interested who’s going to win Teach?”

“I am,” said Gianna standing up and following Kael.

“No need,” hummed the old woman closing her eyes. “I know how it will end.”

Kael and Gianna left the old woman to her own “knitting” as Kael put it; she didn’t occupy herself with anything close to knitting. They looped around the house and walked up the hill just like Joshua had done the night before. Cutting through the woods, they came upon the crater filled clearing. In the center, Alma sat on an old tree stump next to the stream. Noel had taken her shoes off and was dipping her feet in the water. Avonly stood off to the side; she had already changed clothes to a loose-fitting top and shorts. Her shoes were off to the side, feet now bare. A pair of fingerless gloves covered her hands.

How embarrassing, Kael thought. She tries harder and harder every time.

“Do me and Noel have to move?” Alma asked. The way she lingered on the last words made it clear what her opinion on moving was.

“Noel and I,” Kael corrected. Alma just stood up and punched Kael in the shoulder as she walked past. Noel skipped after her.

Kael and Avonly moved to the center and stood facing each other. Gianna moved over by Alma and Noel as well and gave a good effort to a genuine smile. Alma glared back.

“Ready?” Kael asked back on the battlefield.

“Bout to mess you up son!” Avonly bellowed.

Kael smiled and twisted his body lower, sliding his foot in a circle in front of him. A fissure of cold red cracked through the earth and exploded where Avonly had stood. The attack wafted under her. Kael took a step back and squinted looking into the sky. Right in front of the sun, Avonly hovered on a slab of metal, one of the many strewn around the arena.

“That’s new,” Kael uttered.

“Well maybe if you spent more time at home then it wouldn’t be so new,” shouted Alma back coldly.

Kael and Avonly stared each other down. Then Kael’s face lost its smile as he looked down at his feet. Twin spires of steel had risen from the ground and completely covered Kael’s foot, holding him in place. “She set traps?” Kael asked, raising an eyebrow. This was hardly fair.

Looking down on him, Avonly crossed her arm and beamed. “Ready to give up?”

Kael looked up annoyed. “Dream on. Just because I can’t move doesn’t mean anything.”

Avonly jerked her head to the side and a slender spear of metal leapt from the dirt at Kael’s throat. In that moment, he closed his eyes, and the ground right below Avonly exploded, and with it, the attack stopped.

It was a guess on Kael’s part, but an obvious one. Avonly had to send energy down into the ground to connect with the metal, and it made the most sense she would send that energy directly down. An explosion there had interrupted the flow. The metal holdings burst away from Kael. He scooped up a small chunk of scrap and flung it at her red hot. She tilted the metal sheet and caught the brunt of the explosion harmlessly on the bottom.

Kael smiled at her efforts. If she could keep up, he would be more than happy to pick up the pace. He whipped his arm and another explosion spread a fiery mist under her. He could keep her cut off indefinitely at this rate.

But a shadow now hung over him. He pushed his hands to the side and used a small explosion in the air to dodge as Avonly came crashing to the ground on top of her metal plate.

“I’ll give it to you, you’ve gotten better Sis,” Kael said. His lungs rattled for a second before gaining his composure.

He jumped to the side remembering what happened last time he had stopped to talk. It was just in time as metal bars broke the dry ground in an attempt to hold him. He jumped to the side. However, as soon as he landed, the ground under his feet gave way and collapsed. Kael tumbled down into a dark pit. Before he could jump out, Avonly waved her hand and a plate of charred and patched metal closed over the hole. Inside his dark tomb underground, Kael banged the sides of his fists against the solid walls around him to no avail. Combustion anywhere would be dangerous in such a tight spot.

Off to the side, Alma, Noel, and Gianna clapped for the winner of the duel both very impressed that she beat Kael, and so easily too. Avonly swaggered over to her trap and then took the lid off. Kael grunted and pulled himself up, grasping stray strands of grass trying to grow in the carnage.

“You cheated and created traps beforehand,” he said, a vibrating growl low in his throat. “We’re fighting again.”

“Again?” she scoffed. “We agreed to a single fight to determine if I could come. And I won!”

Kael spat vehemently, “I was going easy on you. If I had known you had gotten this good I wouldn’t have held back.” Not you too. Not Joshua. Not Zagan. I’m stronger than all of you put together. I can’t keep losing.

“Don’t be a sore loser Kael!” Noel squeaked and then looked to her big sister Alma.

“Fine! She can come, but I want a rematch! She needs to understand how stupid it is for a Syche to isolate themselves from their element. Metal is essentially your ammunition and it was all in the ground. Metal and Combustion always have to be careful, our resources are finite and our enemies can strand us.”

“That’s all you had to say Kael. I’ll beat you again if you want.”

“Begin!” Kael hollered, not wasting a second.

Avonly took to the sky again, but this time Kael immediately pulled a rock he had picked up in the pit, fused it with energy, and lobbed it at her. Avonly once again shielded the attack with her sheet of metal but it wasn’t enough. The platform tore in two and Avonly was knocked to the ground.

An explosion burst at Kael’s feet and skidded him over the ground. And then another. He was almost skating on fire. He circled round and round Avonly and shot a tremor of energy through the dirt. Easy enough to see though, and she jumped away from the line of energy as it exploded behind her One after another, he sent vollies of energy which blossomed into explosions, almost in rhythm. They all came from different directions and encircled her. Looking around hopelessly, she pulled the battered plates of metal scattered around the arena and sheltered herself in a cone. The explosions continued to batter the metal but it didn’t give. She willed it to hold.

Kael’s heels dug into the dirt as he skidded to a stop. He wobbled for a second regaining his balance and felt a strange cool sensation. His fingertips reached for his ear and came back with blood. Still not recovered yet. It’s been weeks. How am I still injured from that disaster? He spat at the ground and looked back up at the steel fortress Avonly had created with fury he had withheld even from Zagan. He had to be stronger; he was all they had. He had lost so much in life because he wasn’t. Not again.

Kael gritted his teeth and took a wide stance. All at once. Let’s see her defend from everywhere. He pushed his hands out and closed his eyes. With a hoarse cry, two bright orange bolts of energy shot out from his fingers and arced through the air, serpenting violently before crashing to the ground and digging a bright circle of energy around the metallic shield. First transmission by air, and someday I’ll explode that too.

Out from the line of trees, Joshua burst sprinting towards Kael. “Stop,” Joshua screamed. “You could kill her you idiot!”

With a horrendously loud tear, the energy released itself in a uniform circle around the fortress sending Joshua tumbling to the side as flames and rock spewed into the air like some volcanic monstrosity.

“What were you thinking?” Joshua coughed, twisting over on the ground. “You could have killed her!”

“Relax man,” Kael sighed. “It wasn’t going to break the wall, not at that angle. I just was trying to scare her,” Kael ended his protest rather sheepishly, taking a step back and rubbing his arm. He slowly looked to where the black smoke began to clear and held his breath a full second until he saw that the metallic shield wall still stood. Charred. Battered. But whoever inside was still safe, surely.

A single plate of the shield fell with a dull and dusty thud and Avonly walked out, pinky finger massaging her ear canal. “So loud. But I win again. We’ll need to find out a safer way to see if you can blow up my defenses from now on.”

“I didn’t lose,” Kael said.

Avonly turned walked away with a sly smile. She raised her hand and snapped her fingers. A small chunk of metal sprung from the ground under Kael’s foot shifting him backward slightly and into the stream.

###

Joshua awoke to the sound of Kael doing push-ups. He was doing better. Joshua was too for that matter. It helped that he had spent his last few days at the town library looking up anything on Dania he could. The promise of starting a new adventure was always cause for celebration, although worries and doubts had already started to creep into the back of his mind. What came after Dania? Joshua knew that he would continue doing whatever he could for Kael, but soon he may very well not be enjoying it.

He turned to the frosty window pensively. Now he’d be worried about spending the rest of the day overthinking things, which would only make him overthink them more. It was a cold snap too, bitter-cold. Kael left for breakfast but Joshua remained in bed, looking out the window blankly, thinking. Even when he was thinking of nothing, it was still thinking of a sorts. This went on for some time until a knock at the door distracted Joshua from his stupor.

“Ready for the morning run?” Kael asked.

They returned home a little over an hour later and not much had changed. Life progressed the same day in and out in the shady vale and Joshua took a late breakfast. He scraped his fork on the bottom of the plate to gather the tiny flecks of greasy bacon left as he looked around. Suddenly dropping the fork, he raised his palms to his temples and began massaging.

“What do you do for a headache behind your eyes?”

“You mean a migraine?” Alma said, appearing in the kitchen door with her sleeves rolled up. Joshua could have sworn it was Noel’s day for kitchen duty. “I think it’s like fixing a stubborn machine. Just hit it hard as you can.”

“What does that mean?” Joshua groaned.

“I’m offering to hit you in the head J,” she answered, looking at him with a smile-less smirk.

Agassa hobbled in through the front door, briskly rubbing her arms against her chest. “Gonna send you boys into town to pick up some seed soon. This will be the last cold snap. I want Avonly ready to plant the fields once it warms. No more trips to the town, the theater, library, anything. Not until we’re ready for planting season. And Alma. . . .” The two glared at each other. “The barn is still filthy-- mud everywhere. Clean it again.”

“I just did it yesterday.”

“The matter’s decided. Do you want me to decide the timing as well?” The old woman began hiking her way down the hall. “Take Gianna to help you,” she added with one last afterthought.

Noel giggled from the kitchen and poked her head out of the door. “Agassa had Gianna start doing chores too.” She laughed again, the way a small bird might laugh if it could.”

Joshua seemed to think on this for a few seconds before looking down at his empty glass of milk. “Can you refill this for me?” he asked, nudging it towards his sister. Alma waltzed over and looked to the empty glass, smiled, and then bent over. He was astonished she would help him at all, especially asking like that.

The twang of the fork sprung through the room as she jammed it into the wooden table right beside his forearm. “No.” Joshua looked up horrified. He was used to her throwing silverware around, but the reddish-orange glow of the fork worried him.

“Is that going to explode?”

Alma rolled her eyes around before heading back to the kitchen with Noel as her shadow.

###

Gianna owned nothing of her own. Never had really. More recently, her clothes were Avonly’s and her bed was a couch. It came to pass one sunny afternoon that the issue was to be resolved. Something or another always put it off, but today Avonly was adamant that they would buy her everything she needed in town, even if Gianna didn’t seem to mind. Avonly felt that she was being both rude and obvious not wanting to share, but Gianna was completely oblivious to everything around her.

“Wait for me,” Joshua gurgled as the two girls stepped out of the house. “I want to go too.”

Avonly looked to the electric pole that was further up the yard. In its shadow, Joshua and Alma were wrestling-- possibly. She had him in a chokehold on the ground as Noel and Kael cheered on from the side. Avonly frowned; she didn’t want Joshua coming. Alma and Noel, perhaps. But not Joshua. Joshua lurched forward and threw Alma off of his back. As he jumped up and took a step to them, Alma’s arm crooked around his neck. She leapt onto his back and heaved him back to the dirt.

“Psst,” Avonly hissed grabbing Gianna by the shoulder and leading her out the door. “We’ll just make it us.”

Joshua opened his mouth to object as they began walking down the gravel path but the words caught in his choked throat.

Avonly trotted along the path laughing. “That was fun wasn’t it? Alma might not look like it but she’s a scrapper.”

“Oh yes I suppose,” Gianna agreed jogging ahead to keep up. “Your family fights a lot doesn’t it?”

“It comes from a place of love.”

“Love huh?”

It took a little over an hour to walk to town at the speed they meandered, but that was hardly important. Nothing else was going on that day. And it wasn’t like Agassa let them take the truck from the barn. Not willingly at least.

As the sun dipped, they walked back laden with bags: a pair of heavy boots, tennis shoes, and clothes. The mattress would be shipped to them the next day. Avonly had tried to get Gianna to buy at least one personal possession. A book? A journal? Even a pocket knife? Gianna preferred the austere she supposed. Give it a month, she was sure she could coax Gianna into something. In the meantime, Avonly had to settle on the small victory that was convincing Gianna to buy something that wasn’t entirely black. Grey would have to do.

As they walked back, Avonly shaded her eyes with one hand while the other tried to shoo the sun away. As the sun dipped below the horizon on its own accord it was at that singular point where it made the sky beautiful but it also blinded. Down the desolate dirt street, the two girls walked and talked, laden with their bags.

“They always go on trips without me!” Avonly reminisced. “The very first time they left. . . .”

Well, Avonly did most of the talking.

“… and of course Joshua got pneumonia sleeping in the rain like that. If I was there I could have made a shelter-- ya’ know?” Avonly yammered on.

“…of course I don’t really blame them for that. They were only twelve on their first journey to find the Book. But still, they could have brought me along. I’m only a year younger than Joshua for crying out loud!”

###

I do wish she would shut up, Gianna thought, trying to block the sound from ringing in her ears. She smiled and nodded. She had learned early that this set of arbitrary movements made Avonly happy.

“Oh! Did they ever tell you about the time they got chased up a tree by those… oh… whatever you call them. I mean it wouldn’t have helped to bring me but it would have been hilarious to have seen it.” Avonly looked to Gianna expectantly.

“Oh, I think I recall something about a tree. I think,” Gianna responded; she didn’t.

This was nice, far better than having to tell her over and over again about her last adventure with Joshua and Kael. She hadn’t really minded the first time, but by the third time it began to grate. Despite being practically the same age, she couldn’t see many similarities. Wait, we aren’t the same age anymore. I’ve had a birthday since I’ve been here. She didn’t know the exact date, only that it was at the end of winter, and they were past that.

As they ambled down the path, Gianna listened, a lump in her throat. It was a weird feeling. To be feeling anything at all that is. She only briefly made eye contact, another trick she had picked up spending all this time with Avonly.

The two girls came to the top of a hill, where a little cemetery lay. Gianna had seen it a few times over the past weeks and thought nothing about it. It was sad-- not because it was a cemetery but more due to the general state of disrepair. A lonely little tree was planted in the middle and the circle of shade it created covered about a dozen markers ranging from actual stones to wood sloppily carved by what could only have been children. All of these things Gianna had seen before, and all of these things she had ignored. But today, Kael and Joshua stood with their backs to her, among the meager monuments. New, but uninteresting. She was ready to move on but realized that Avonly had stopped.

A jolt of surprise shook Gianna as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Craning her neck, she saw Avonly finally quiet.

“You already know don’t you?” Avonly whispered.

“Dead family or something,” Gianna shrugged, staring at her feet. “I figured when they said the Book could bring people back to life” After a few seconds passed where neither was willing to speak, Gianna began walking again. “I really don’t want to have this conversation now. Or ever.”

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