Syche: The Steel Heart (BOOK 2)

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Chapter 3: The Scattering

The next to join us in our meeting was neither Mellach nor his two missing commanders, to everyone’s surprise. Instead, an elderly, minuscule woman ushered herself through the throne room doors and hobbled up to the three Commanders.

Her eyes shifted up towards my location behind the throne, clearly feeling my presence, but she instead chose to focus on what was before her.

“Agassa. Pleasure,” she said. Her words cracking like a whip. “That fool that calls himself king here yet?” The Yatalan Commander, Lyon, shifted uncomfortably. Just as he was about to answer, the old codger cut him off strategically answering her own question, “Of course he’s not. Like he’d put his ass anywhere else but that seat.”

“Pardon ma’m,” the more polite of the Commander brothers, Temura, said, “but should you really be here?”

She paid him no mind.

15 Minutes Before the Rasgard Home Burned

“You got that Ell?” Kael’s voice flared through the speakers, sharp and clear.

The fight would start any second and Joshua was prepared to hold his breath. Literally. Observing a stressful situation was far more tense than being in it, and he would sometimes forget to breathe; it normally involved a lot of yawning afterwards.

“Of course, of course,” Ell said, dismissing a short intelligence officer who was trying to communicate quiety to him. He lightly pushed her away and readjusted to the display, intently watching.

As she huffed away, Som, ever the dutiful shadow, cleared his throat. As Joshua looked over his shoulder to the gaunt man, he spoke, “watch that one.”

Trying to look further over his shoulder before turning around entirely, Joshua watched the woman leave the room, an ever-present question in his stare. It wasn’t like Som to drop poor direction.

“Not the one leaving, across from us,” Som corrected, hefting a deep sigh. “We see the same things, try to be alert.”

Joshua scrunched his nose in annoyance but looked, turned a full circle before facing forward again. The room was getting loud and chaotic, something was happening, but it wouldn’t do to keep Som unaddressed. It was actually the first point in his five-point plan for dealing with the man– the possessing spirit. Don’t give him reason to get angry. Som said he wouldn’t, couldn’t, do anything to harm him, but Joshua was more skeptical nowadays.

Across from them tittered another woman in a soldier’s green patchwork uniform, marking her as a soldier directly under Ell’s command (in theory). She stood tall, too tall, and desperately tried to make eye contact with Ell. But one look from Joshua was apparently a doable substitute. She gave a curt nod and slid her clasped hand off the table before marching off. Where her hand had rested, a small piece of paper lay behind.

Joshua didn’t bother scanning for nosy looks or suspicious overtures; he had Som for that. Instead, Joshua marched confidently across the room to some nonexistent point with, perhaps, too much purpose. Turning abruptly, he snagged the small torn-off paper and began a semicircle back to Ell’s side.

“Read it quick,” Joshua thought. That was all Som needed to understand him. Joshua’s eyes darted to the scrap paper for the merest of seconds, that too being all that Som needed.

“Damn,” Som grunted. Joshua had never actually heard him curse before. It was a small addition to the large number of reasons why he didn’t trust this man. “Grab Ell by the arm and pry him from the room, low-key as you can. I’ll explain as we go.”

Joshua’s ghost, Som, sounded. . . worried, frightened. And that was enough for Joshua. He did as commanded knowing full well that Som had a vested interest in Joshua’s continued well-being. That made sense in their relationship, at least until they found a way to uncouple.

As Joshua’s fingers dug into the tightly worn synthetic sleeve of Ell and pulled, he was surprised that Ell moved with, completely free of resistance. Once in a small hovel in the middle of a desert town called Dania, Joshua had punched Ell full stop in the face, and the pale stick of a man hadn’t resisted with that either. Pulling him through the throng just as an eruption of yelling burst out, Joshua exited the command room with his willing human-luggage.

Whatever emergency was happening back at their old home, it was all the reason more to finish this quickly. Something was amiss here.

“I’m working on the assumption that this is horribly important,” Ell’s voice droned as he contorted himself around, having walked backwards the entire time.

“Tell him his officer left a note,” Som began in a rushed voice, the faintest hint of an accent Joshua couldn’t even begin to recognize tainting the softer vowels. “They’re coming for us, right now. We have ten minutes tops.”

Joshua scowled while repeating the words verbatim. As soon as Joshua was done, he looked to Som and asked as much: “Who are ‘they’?”

“No clue,” Som said, “but if you’ve been paying attention these past few weeks, that woman was one of the few people left in this building that was loyal to Ell.”

Back and forth Ell’s pasty, colorless eyes baubbled as Joshua engaged in a quick conversation with the air. His mouth stood ajar and his tongue dug into the bottom of his front teeth.

“They, I assume, is the Serian government,” Ell said. “We have less time than I thought.”

In two steps, Ell was gliding through the hallway with a lithe stride. Joshua could forget the man was elfin when not being jerky and bizarre.

Biting his lip, Joshua sprinted off after him. He knew he had given a clue about Som existing just now, but that hardly mattered. What was one flub in all this time, especially how weird Ell always acted? Ell practically talked to the walls every other sentence. Plus they had bigger problems to deal with.

The halls twisted and turned before them as Joshua and Ell sprinted along, Ell’s veritable wavy rug of hair bouncing alongside his back abnormally obedient. Left and then a right, and then Joshua skidded to a stop as Ell slid his arm behind and pushed him through a door.

This was Ell’s room, Joshua had passed it enough time to know that. Each of those times he imagined a sort of oddness that matched the man, but he was now left wanting as it was completely barren.

Completely barren outside the cluster of Lithurians Joshua sent here. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember their names. The one he did know, Lier-whatever, Ell’s brother, wasn’t even here.

“Zahryia, Tremloyn,” Ell said, smoothly bringing his hand up in the same diagonal pattern Joshua saw earlier. What followed was absolute nonsense. A rapid cascade of syllables and slurs that barely sounded like human language to Joshua.

“He’s just explaining the urgency,” Som spoke, appearing beside Joshua in an instant. It was dissettling but Joshua no longer flinched or jumped. The first week, Som only appeared suddenly when no one else was around because Joshua kept gasping. “He’s asking the man to find your sisters, Avonly and Noel, and get them out of here.”

“And you!” Ell spun, his eyes less glazed than they usually were. “Head to the north gate past the tarmac. As unexpected as the timing of all this is, I at least made sure to secure your escape routes ahead of time. Tremloyn here will find your sisters and get them out.”

“What if any of us get caught?”

“I’m already caught. If you or your siblings are caught, they’ll be taken to the Steel Heart as political prisoners. Perfectly safe but prisoners nonetheless. If you’re all taken there, it may be some time until you can find a way to kill your father. Whatever information Niles brings back will go to waste.”

Finding a way to kill the King-Emperor of Taserose, Commander of the Dark Element, and their father was the goal right now. Niles, Ell’s personal. . . person, honestly Joshua didn’t even know how that relationship worked, had promised to bring back information on someone they were trying to find. There was one person in the entire world who might know about the King’s secrets and be willing to talk.

It was fortunate for Niles to be away today, lucky him.

“How about a meeting point?” Joshua suggested. “Something to give to everyone so we can get back together?”

“Honestly kid,” Ell snapped, just finishing spewing another line of something in his native tongue, “we have no way of communicating with the two in Kidenia. Unless they can sense something is wrong, they’ll be hand-delivered to the Serian capital.

A thin smiled splayed on Som’s lips. Did he know what Joshua was thinking or did he guess? It was infuriating either way.

Joshua looked to the Lithurian named Tremloyn, “tell my sister to meet us at the Serian capital then. One week’s time.”
“It’s a big city,” Som reminded.

“The place with the best food,” Joshua said. Hopefully Avonly remembered that codeword. Joshua and Kael had developed a hundred or so between themselves, and there was no telling what Avonly knew or didn’t. Joshua rubbed his hands together. “North tarmac?”

Ell gave the slightest of nods. “Straight on through to the gate. If you see my brother, tell him Zahryia is looking for him and to get back to the boats. Last thing I need is that bloodless getting caught.”

Joshua didn’t know their terminology, but bloodless seemed to refer to his people’s Sychakenetic abilities, seeing as they were all Blood Syches by the look of things. And that was odd, since Ell wasn’t a Syche. Maybe it just meant useless, which Ell was not.

Cracking open the doorway and making sure the coast was clear, Joshua looked back to Ell one last time. “I remember what happened last time I put someone’s fate in your hands. The Serians will be the least of your problems if anything happens to my sisters.”

“Noted.”

“Good luck with the whole execution thing then,” Joshua said, slipping out the door.

###

“What did you do!” Avonly just about screamed, her arms stuck out in front of her gesturing blankly, too overwhelmed to posture herself otherwise.

Standing beside her, pure and innocent as the sunset, her little sister Noel stood over two soldiers sprawled out on the hot asphalt, twitching and spasming. The little girl’s nose sniffled as she looking from the men on the ground to her older sister.

“But they grabbed you!” she said, “Alma always says–”

“I don’t care what our crazy sister says. She gives bad advice. You can’t just electrocute people.”

“Even if they grab you?”

Avonly clenched her fist and tried to think. It had all happened so fast. They were strolling the grounds watching a convoy get ushered in. Next thing she knew, two soldiers were hailing them and running over as she and Noel walked along the southern cliff. Avonly couldn’t get two words out before they had her by the shoulders.

“Just ask next time,” Avonly said, knowing full well she didn’t want to make that call.

Noel was the youngest of the Rasgard children and a talented Lightning Syche through and through. But she was always closest with Alma, and now Avonly had to question that influence. Avonly froze up just thinking about fighting animals, let alone humans, and here was her little sister laying two fully grown men out on a whim.

The convoy was gone around the corner, and there were no soldiers in sight, but upon closing her eyes, Avonly could feel them. The base was teeming with them. They were starting in the command building and fanning out.

Whatever was going on, Avonly didn’t like it.

“Let’s go wait in that shed over there,” Avonly politely asked, offering Noel a hand.

Together they marched on through the giant open doors of what was more a garage than a shed. Together, they took daily walks all around the base and knew most of it by this point. This was one of their favorite spots since there were usually cool machines in here. They were headed here anyway. And in here they could wait and see what was going on, maybe give those two soldiers some time to cool off once they got over the electrocution.
Yeah. This was a good plan.

###

Emerging out of the main complex into the harsh afternoon sun, Joshua squinted and felt his way down the wall, keeping to the shadows as best he could. There was a long stretch of nothing out in front and he’d be a beacon to anyone looking. Still, he could run fast and the woods weren’t far past the gate. All he needed was a head start and he had a fair shot of getting away.

Taking a quick look around for Avonly and Noel, Joshua ducked and stayed low across the hot grass, creeping closer to the tarmac. And then he realized: he had seen someone. Slowly peering to the right, he noticed a bushel of pale, colorless wavey hair so long it brushed the ankles. The feet peeping out beneath stood on the cliffside, pointed towards the sea.

Ell’s brother Lierwellen. Had to be. Everyone else was accounted for.

“Ahem,” Som carefully pronounced, dragging it out so long that he sounded every letter out individually. “Leave it alone and let’s go. The Lithurians aren’t our business.
Joshua wasn’t sure he could do that. Ell seemed worried for the guy and he couldn’t help but think of his own younger brother Kael, who he always looked out for. Younger half-brother with superpowers, but the principle still applied.

Joshua gritted his teeth, mulling over the situation. He couldn’t not try to help, after Ell had promised to take care of Avonly and Noel. Grimacing and resigning himself to the right thing, Joshua stood up and sprinted towards the cliffs at the end of the tarmac instead.

Halfway there, Joshua raised his voice as loud as he dared, hoping it wouldn’t carry. “Lier!” He couldn’t remember the rest of his name. Wait. Som. “What’s his name?”

The visual representation of Som’s body was gone, but Joshua could hear the man’s voice in his head just fine, and that voice gave a shaking sigh. “Lierwellen– if you must.”

“Lierwellen!” Joshua yelled again, nearly upon him.

The man turned slowly, sleepy-eyed and unfocused. He gave a curt smile, cocking his head to one side and raised his hand in the familiar Lithurian greeting. “Joshua. Coim. Watch the wind with myne.”

“No time for wind dude,” Joshua said, brushing off sweat from the midday sun. “Ell said to get to the docks or look for the chick. You guys are in trouble here.” The two stood there in silence for ten seconds before Lierwellen turned around to stare out at the sea with absolutely no regard for what Joshua had said. “Okay with me.” For the second time that day, Joshua grabbed a Lithurian by the arm and forced him along.

They cut across the runway and Lierwellen was just as easy to jerk around as Ell had been. The Lithurians seemed adverse to resisting, at least the brothers. Forcing the guy behind a building, Joshua shoved him further in and took cover himself, looking back to see if anyone had seen them.

So far so good.

###

With shaking hands tickling the air, Avonly stood still, able to feel her heart beating halfway up her trachea. Around the opening of the hangar, five men with automatic assault rifles drawn stood poised and ready to shoot. Noel refused to put her hands up. Instead, she crossed her arms across her chest and squinted at the men. At least she was as cute as a sea-goose egg while she did it.

“Hands where we can see them! We will shoot!

They’ll what? Avonly couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It’s not like she could even do anything about it directly. The guns were touching the people directly and thus covered by their life force, not to be controlled. And bullets were way too fast to pluck out of the air with her powers. That would be inhuman.

“Please, put your hands up, Noel.”

“Hmpf.”

“One last chance!

“Now hold on,” a new voice joined the fray.

The soldiers looked behind and then parted, letting a newcomer into the negotiations. The man who sauntered into their midst was no ordinary soldier, if he was military at all. He wore a deep blue robe with fringe and garnishment colored gold and deep read over a pair of beige military trousers. His hair hung long, dark, and sleek, but not so long as to compete with the absurdity of Ell’s. A scabbard and sword with an ornately crafted guard of gold lattice hung on his right side, to his left the pomp and circumstance were replaced by a standard-issue pistol.

“Don’t worry children, we won’t harm you.” His voice was silky but the pronunciation hung rough with the words. “You must not frighten the men with your powers though. They are not used to such things.” Moving out in front, he dropped to one knee, equal height and eye to eye with Noel. “I’m General Laoshi. I work directly under the Minister. We just want to talk with you.”

Avonly wanted to jump in and assist, but she wasn’t sure she could get Noel to cooperate. She wasn’t even sure she knew Noel at this point. Avonly had never seen her little sister face adversity. It wasn’t like they let her join in the sparring sessions and combat practice. Still, this was unexpected.
“Would that be alright with you?” The General said, brushing a ribbon of hair back behind his ear and smiling. You can come with me, no need to worry about these scary fellows.”

“What about this scary fellow?” Another new voice joined the chorus. The airspace was filling up fast.

Loashi stood and dusted the knees of his slacks, turning with his men to face a pale, see-through man coming for them. He looked like Ell, but it clearly wasn’t him; Avonly was sure of that She was worried though. Bullets could punch holes in a normal person, but what about someone like this? She imagined it’d be like shooting Ja’en porcelain and this man would just fall to pieces where he stood.

“You should already be detained. Such a problem you Syches are,” the General said, his tone unwavering.

“And what makes you think I’m a Syche?” the Lithurian asked, standing ten feet away from the firing squad.

“How else could you have evaded capture? At least so blatantly.”

The man gave a full-toothed smile and nodded, something that Ell never would have attempted. “You got me. But you also got yourself, if I may use those words in that order.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean to take those two girls with me and leave this place, and I don’t see how crude ballistics are going to stop me. Even if you had the wisdom to bring the electro and incendiary Ell developed specifically for Syches, I don’t think that fight would favor you.”

The general gave a chuckle, and to his credit, Avonly couldn’t discern how real it was. “Then we have a standoff I think. You say you can do great things but don’t. We say not another step, or else. How to proceed?”

The older Lithurian grinned, and it was clear now that he was older, faint creases around the eye forming when he smiled and scratched his chin. “I proceed by proceeding.” The general opened his mouth to respond but the Lithurian was already sliding his feet forward, stepping towards the soldiers.

They braced and straightened, their guns locked with stiff arms. Without breaking her view, Avonly felt to the side for Noel, preparing to cover her eyes, but as the old Lithurian reached the line of rifles threatening to poke his eyes out just as much as shoot him, he stepped right on through and knocked two soldiers out of the way. With a final sidestep from the general, nothing lay between the Lithurian and Avonly now.

Ignoring the soldiers to his back with such a degree as to be practiced, he bent down and ruffled Noel’s hair with a smile. Then he rose and did the same to Avonly much to her displeasure.

“We’ll just take the back door,” the Lithurian said, “already herding Avonly and Noel further into the garage.

“There is no back door and no way they’ll just let us walk out of here,” Avonly breathed, looking back at the scowling general.

“Both simple solutions. First I am a Syche.” He grinned. “Second I am a very good Syche.”

###

Steering Lierwellen to a stop with his hand now permanently affixed to man’s thick parka, Joshua ducked behind the last building before the gate.

Prepared indeed. Whatever Ell had planned, it was out the window. Before there were never more than two guards. Today Joshua could count at least ten milling about.

Ducking back behind the corner, Joshua looked at Lierwellen’s curious gaze like that of a small child. It didn’t seem like asking him for ideas would be any use whatsoever.

What to do.

They could go back, but the search parties would be fanning out by now. They could try the gates, but that seemed impossible– a word Joshua would normally call the greatest curse of them all. The fence was electrified; he knew that. Was there any way out? But then, this guy was a Lithurian. Ell called him bloodless, but was that a comment on his powers?

“You,” Joshua said pointing. “Are you a Syche?”

“Syche? But of curse.”
“Wait, really?” Joshua couldn’t believe his luck. There wasn’t even room for a mistranslation with that simple of a question. “Can you use your powers, your blood to get us through the wall then?” It would be a simple thing after all, to tunnel under. Build a bridge over. The blood wouldn’t work on the electricity, but creativity demanded other uses.

Lierwellen took a deep, too deep, breath and nodded calmly. “I am a Syche. But–” He expelled that extra air. “I am not able.”

“Not able?”

“The wyrd thoust use. Powers? This I do not häve.”

What? What did that even mean? Apparently there was still plenty of room for mistranslation.

Regardrless, that still meant he needed a plan.

“What aboust thym?” Lierwellen asked, beckoning to the soldiers with an open hand.

Joshua ignored him, looking in the direction of the cliff. Perhaps they could try scaling it? If it was thier only option. The last time Joshua had tried something like that he had broken many, many bones. That had to be, what? A year and a half ago at this point. Things could be different this time.

I willst ask irregardless.”

“On no you w–whoah,” Joshua stopped mid-sentence, finally looking back. Lierwellen hadn’t meant that he was going to walk over and ask, he was saying he would ask when the soldiers got to them, because three of them were jogging over. And behind them, another group was getting into a truck and revving the engine.

“Run!” Joshua screamed, once again grabbing Lierwellen by the crook of his arm and pulling him towards the direction of the cliffs.

The soldiers shouted behind, but Joshua couldn’t make out what they said; plus, the message was in the medium. Holding on to Lierwellen just to be sure, Joshua found himself surprised realizing that he was keeping up just fine, no need to even be pulled. And if they could keep that distance from the soldiers, they wouldn’t have to worry about the guns, even if the soldiers were willing to shoot.

It was a quick sixty-second sprint past four buildings and to the edge of the cliff. The men behind them had fallen slightly behind, but would still be there in twenty seconds. To their right, two trucks were swinging around the tarmac and would there maybe ten seconds after the soldiers.

The cliffs looked sharp and uninviting. Joshua remembered now that there was a reason he hadn’t tried to climb them these past few weeks. And the drop from this point had to be about forty feet from top to base. Jumping and climbing were both out of the picture.

And yet those were the options.

Resigning himself to the jump, a miracle occurred as Joshua scanned for a soft place to land. A billowing red cloak and sandy mop of hair looked up from just below, an unexpected sight.

“Niles!” Joshua shouted, even though the man was already squinting up in their direction, one hand shading his eyes. “We need to get down!”

The top of Nile’s cloak raised as he shrugged. “Just jump down then.”

Of course, just jump down. The Lightening Syche would say that. He had seen Niles land a similar fall on one occasion, electricity pumping through his body and augmenting his muscles and physical abilities.

“Can you help us!”

“Joshua,” Niles said once, calmly. “You need to jump now.”

Joshua couldn’t bring himself to look any more than he could get the screams of those soldiers out of his head. “To hell with it,” Joshua grumbled, jumping forward and pulling Lierwellen down with him. He had done stupider things before, but this was going to hurt.

The ground approached faster than it had any right to at that height, and Joshua closed his eyes tight, ready for the impact. Sand or no sand, he was getting some fractures ripping through his shins today.

But the pain never came. Opening one eye and then the next, he started breathing again realizing that he and Lierwellen sat on the beach already.

Oh no. It was so bad that he couldn’t even feel the pain. This was a worst-case scenario. His feet would be attached backwards if he was lucky.

But as Joshua looked down at his legs, they were fine. Fine? How was any of this possible?

Niles helped Lierwellen to his feet and then Joshua as the soldiers screamed overhead and threatened to shoot.

“Oh, will they not shut up?” Niles said smiling. His foot twisted and Joshua could see the glimmer of electricity shoot through the beach and up the rock face. In half a second, the men on the ridge fell over. “Let’s get a go on shall we? It won’t be that simple to lose them.”

Lierwellen ignored the two of them, gently poking at the zig-zag of glass now branded into the sand.

Rolling his eyes, Joshua grabbed Lierwellen by the arm and took off after Niles, who was already halfway gone. They could walk fine. They could run fine. It really was a miracle.

“Ah, that’s because I’m a Lightning Syche,” Niles explained cheerfully, as was his want. “Well, you people always call it Lightning but the actual name for our types is Conduction. The transfer of energy. Some kinetic energy from falling? Not a problem.”

As they veered from the beach and into the woods at the first chance they got, Joshua mulled those words over. It just didn’t make sense to him. Even if Lightning (or Conduction) Syches were that broadly powerful, he didn’t see how any form of transfer could stop a fall. Niles couldn’t transfer the energy out of Joshua’s body.

But on the other hand, the proof was in the results. Joshua chose to go with it.

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