Syche: The Dark Element

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Chapter 3: Dock Tales

Chapter 3 Dock Tales

This is the part where I come in. I was in Tyré as well, the same country Bartholomew was last seen and where the Dark Element would inevitably be found. A tiny, insignificant island nation with no real value to anyone.

For your consideration though: A cornerstone is small and insignificant on its own, and it’s what we build atop it that matters. Of course, you destroy more than we build. So much to feel guilty for.

#

The old farmer felt a shiver run down his spine. He took the steaming pot of tea from the stovetop and turned his attention to the front door Kael had turned to splinters. The door itself had been easy enough to fix, but he hadn’t yet figured out a way to repair the door frame. The result was a stiff and biting wind chilling the house. He had stapled a tarp against the hole, sure, but that kind of patchwork couldn’t keep the weather outside. He shook his head and poured the tea. Tucking his shotgun under his left arm, he picked up the cup with his left and made to scuttle back to the bedroom. At this point, his bedroom was really the only suitable place for habitation after the fight between Kael and that Syche. Whatever that was.

And then the porch boards squeaked.

Slowly, quietly, the old man place the chipped cup onto the table and brought up his shotgun. The warnings the boys had given him didn’t fall on deaf ears. He probably didn’t even need a warning after what had happened here a week ago.

A hollow knock sounded against the front door and the farmer jumped. He had been expecting it, but he was afraid every time that happened nowadays. Every police visit, every social call-- he jumped. Only this time, he was sure it was neither of those parties.

“I have a gun,” the old man growled.

“I don’t,” the gravelly voice on the other side answered back.

However, reasonable the words, the old man wasn’t about to trust a voice that sounded like a hyn. He racked a load into his weapon, hoping, praying, the sound would scare the shadow at his door away. The clock ticked away the seconds, and for a moment the farmer thought his caller would leave. But to his astonishment and outright disbelief, the door handle melted away in wisps of smoke and the door swung on its hinges.

Boots stepped forward confidently followed by a gangly man with a black biker jacket, deep v-neck white shirt, and greasy long hair. The farmer forced himself to swallowed and tried to calm his hands as they shook. He was right though, this man looked like a hyena.

“I said I’d shoot you and I will.”

The thin man cocked his head and gave him a sharp grin. He turned to the bloodstains and scuffed his boots along the stand in for a tombstone. “Word on the street, some poor soul already died in your place under mysterious circumstances. You wouldn’t want to add me to the pile.”

“What?”

“The body pile. It’d cast a dubious light on your personage if the bodies keep piling up.” The thin man rounded the counter, coming up behind and snagged the cup of tea. He sniffed it and place it back haphazardly, the rich orange liquid spilling from the sides. And then he held out his hand. “Mal.”

“What?”

“Is what all you can articulate? I’m introducing myself to you. My name is Malcolm, or Mal. Now shake my hand.” Dumbfounded, the farmer lowered his weapon and place his hand in Mal’s warm grasp.

“You’re, from, the Dark Element?” the farmer stuttered.

Mal and looked back to his partner with a sharp, devilish grin, a look that would have sent the farmer running if he could see. “He tell you that? Well, he’s fortunate you killed him.”

“The girl isn’t here.”

“The girl?” Mal asked, raising his eyebrows. He pivoted looking back to the door where yet another person stood. Shorter than this gangly man, but who wasn’t? This person dressed like the dead man, in those ghostly black robes and a hood and mask covering their face. They gave a short shrug.

“I don’t know what you want then,” the farmer said. “That’s what your other man was after.”

“How about you just stay quiet and I’ll explain things. The way I hears it, two boys came through. Two odd, peculiar, downright idiosyncratic boys. They were the ones who killed our guy-- at least in the police report.” Mal’s eyes wandered to the barrels of the shotgun.

“You want revenge for them killing your man.”

“See, this is why I told you to be quiet. When your mouth opens, you bloviate. Happens again and I’ll kill you. I want those boys because of who they are and what they are doing, and if you don’t know what that means, you’re all the better for it.”

The farmer silently nodded.

“So where are they off to?” Mal asked licking his lips.

“They said a treasure hunt.”

Mal took two large steps closer until he towered over the poor man. “And where do they think the proverbial ‘X’ is?” The farmer looked dumbfounded at this question. “Like a treasure map. An ‘X’. I’m asking where they’re off to.”

“Tyré,” the farmer quickly spat out. “They took the girl and they went to Tyré. That’s all I know.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. It’s not my first winter, I don’t need to be threatened. Now leave me in peace.”

Mal took a step back and stuck out his bottom lip in surprise. He looked to his compatriot by the door and shrugged. “I guess we’ll go then. Thanks for making this easy.”

Mal strode across the room in long steps following his lackey out, only stopping as he reached the tarp, pulling it back, and inspecting the damage. His head bobbed with a knowing shake and then he disappeared into the night.

Slamming the door shut, Mal traced his finger against the wood paneling and sent a stream of white energy around the house. The stream of energy grew and grew until the entire house glowed within the second. As Mal stepped from the porch onto the foggy ground, the house exploded in a haze of white. The shrapnel flew out in every which direction except where he and his partner stood. And then just as soon as it started, there was only darkness again.

“Get to Tyré and try and get ahead of those boys. I want eyes on them.” Mal said to the hooded figure who nodded. “Cut them off at the base.” He turned and looked at the smoldering ruins with pillows of black smoke. “I like that aroma.”

#

A cartoon dog was teaching the alphabet, and Joshua had never hated anything so much in his life. He turned from the television with Emily sitting cross-legged in front and moved to the window. Without a reason, he pushed the blinds back and looked at a solid wall of white. It was snow and would be snow for the next few months.

They had been in Tyré for a full week now and nothing had come up on either Bartholomew or the Dark Element. Normally that wouldn’t be so bad, but normally Kael and he would be hitting the streets together looking for leads. Not this trip. This trip they alternated every day because someone had to stay in the hotel room and babysit.

Joshua laid down closed his eyes. He just wanted to lay there and never wake up. Even on the days where it was his turn to go out, Joshua had a hard time waking up. As fun as an adventure was in theory, he just couldn’t do it on some days. And that was made worse by forced periods of nothingness. Time to stew on unproductive thoughts.

A knock at the door roused Joshua from his stupor. He took a deep breath and laid back down, seeing if the thump would sound again. It did.

“Want me to get it?” Emily asked, now trying her best to balance on her head.

Joshua scowled at her and rolled to his side till he was clear off the bed. He stepped over Emily who was attempting to do a headstand. As his eye met the peephole level, he saw Kael looking around impatiently. Joshua undid the chain, the main lock, and the doorstop before letting him in. It wouldn’t do much if the Dark Element had tracked them to Tyré, but it made for quieter dreams.

Kael strode into the room with flakes of snow still falling off his shoulders and short, dark hair. He wore black, top to bottom, and had a hood thrown back and held a mask in his hand. It was Joshua’s idea to chum the waters dressed like someone from that group. As inherently dangerous as that was, it was decided Kael should be the one to do it, even if it was Joshua’s day to go out.

“Well?” Joshua prodded.

“Hello,” Kael said, putting on a big grin and waving to Emily. “Can you do it yet?”

Emily teetered on her head for a second before flopping down like a fish. “Almost!”

Joshua crossed his arms and scowled. “And how was your day Joshua?” Kael asked with the same sing-song voice.

“Not as fun as the manual labor back on the farm,” Joshua shrugged. “Still less stressful than going out today.”

Kael grunted, knowing Joshua wasn’t joking. He did love mindless work. Kael then leaned into Joshua and whispered: “Let’s find somewhere private to talk.”

Joshua looked around the single room suite questioningly and then turned then opened the door to the bathroom for Kael.

“So you did find something,” Joshua said, lowering the toilet seat all the way and sitting down on top.

“Well there’s good news and bad news.”

“Let’s hear the good news first.” This almost got a grin out of Kael. The corners of his mouth just barely twisting. Joshua knew it would. Kael saw him as a horribly optimistic person, even if Joshua saw himself as perhaps the complete opposite of that. Still, Kael liked it when Joshua acted in that “predictable” way.

“I’ll start with the bad news, because I didn’t ask you which you wanted,” Kael said, getting to it right away. “I was followed today. Maybe. I definitely felt, for just a fraction of a second, the energy that comes off another Syche.”

“You think it was the Dark Element? How many Syches do you think they have?”

The question seemed to catch Kael by surprise as he blinked a few times before answer. “I guess they might have a few Syches. Come to think of it, “element” is in their name.”

“Then that’s a problem. We had a hard enough time with one of their card carrying members.”

“Don’t give me that J. He had some surprises but he wasn’t much. If I wasn’t there, you could have dealt with him on your own.”

Leaning back in a stretch, Joshua considered these words, feeling his vertebrae move. Joshua could handle himself, even with Syches. That was proven time and again in the past. Even still, he couldn’t help but feel Kael overestimated him constantly. What good was proven success when you couldn’t duplicate it? What good was any of it if you just got lucky in the first place?

And then Joshua realized he had been squirming around without saying much of anything as Kael looked at him like some exhibit behind tempered glass. “So we should keep a watch tonight. Just in case.” Joshua hastily spoke.

“Obviously,” Kael said. “On to the good news then. I guess.”

“Well there’s only one good news for us in this situation: You found Doctor Bartholomew?”

“No, I found a middle man.”

“And this middle man told you where to find Doctor Barthlomew?”

“No. Can you let me tell my story?”

“I don’t know. Can you not tell it so boring?”

“I found someone who knew about the Dark Element-- kind of. So anyway. This middle man talks about food.” Kael saw his brother about to ask another question or make a useless comment so he quickly pushed on. “Food shipments. It quickly became apparent that he arranged all the supplies to be shipped to some sort of base, or outpost they have. I thought that was weird at first. Why all the trouble for some thugs tucked away somewhere in the city? Right? Well, they use helicopters to transfer everything they need, so it’s not nearby.”
“And now we need to go to the helicopter company and find their records.” Joshua clapped his hands together and stood up. “I’ll handle this one.”
“You won’t, because I already did it. The middle man gave me some paperwork with shipment logs. I took that right over to the transportation company and they were able to verify the drop-off point.”

“And no one even questioned you handling all this? You’re seventeen, and without that hood on you look it.”

“I questioned the middle man at the docks with everything on, but you have a point. I didn’t walk into the transportation company with my head covered. I guess this group has a reputation. Anyone who sees someone dressed like this,” Kael beckoned down to his ridiculous getup, “they don’t ask questions.”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with reputation,” Joshua said, looking his brother up and down. “You just look like you’re up to no good.”

Kael laughed a quiet non-laugh. More of quick evacuation of air from his lungs. “I should dress like this more often then. We’re never up to any good.”

“I’d like to think we help people all the time,” Joshua spat defensively. It wasn’t like his brother to attack him so personally.

“This is all besides the point,” Kael sighed. “I’ve got a location up in the mountains where they are holed up. We just need to hike there.”

“You want to hike up there in ten feet of snow?” Joshua asked, already imagining the painful future in store. Painful for him. To Kael the cold was nothing. He had never quite got the connection, but for Combustion Syches specifically, temperature had no meaning. It was like that undying Blood Syche’s ability to be ground into pulp and still stay standing.

“It is what it is. Let’s leave at first light. The longer we wait the better chance we don’t find this Bartholomew alive. All that’s left to worry about is--”

Almost on queue, a knock sounded at the bathroom door, Emily’s tiny knuckles tapping out a tune. “Are you both in there?” she asked.

“We are,” the boys said together.

“That’s weird.”

“Only a little,” Joshua answered back. “We’ll be out in a second, go back to trying headstands.” The brothers listened for her small feet to plot away on the carpet before returning to their conversation. “We can’t take her with us, you know that right?”

Kael straightened up and grunted. “Sure. Of course.”

“I’ve had time to think about this already. There’s an orphanage in the city and we can convince them to take her in.”

“We don’t know she is an orphan yet.”

“That’s not the point.” Joshua wasn’t so sure that Kael didn’t see his point more than he didn’t want to admit it.

Kael grunted and leaned back once again. “If we don’t have a choice.”

“We don’t. Not sure what good bringing her into a den of Syches would do anyway.”

Kael looked questioningly at his brother. “You think they’re all Syches? Every single one?”

Joshua shot a coy smile. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence the one guy we’ve seen from this organization has magical powers. We’re about to be in the thick of it.”

“It’s not magic.”

“It kind of is.”

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