“RT, hang on. I need a more precise location than this, you’re kidding me dude.You seriously have to be kidding me,” Mattius argued, holding up the piece of paper that RT had given him. “We’re talking about an entire 300 mile radius between mines to find him.”
“This is important Mattius. I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t. Tera will meet you outside of the city this evening to get you out. You have to find this boy before it becomes hell on Earth.”
“We don’t even know what he looks like. The sketch you drew isn’t enough to find the boy.”
“He’ll be the only one with fins and gills. I’ll give you that. You have to sneak into the mountains and find him, asking the soldiers will give word out that we’re looking for him.”
“Fine, I can do it. Will you be safe here, though? Both sides have grown tight with tension.”
“I have enough energy left to throw one final trump card if it comes to it,” RT answered quietly, sitting down on the edge of his table. He could hear Tera behind the door talking to Eonak, teaching her English and his heart settled ever so slightly. His left hand shook violently, though, a sign that his time was almost up.
“You’re starting to age, aren’t you?” Mattius whispered, reaching his hand out to grab RT’s own shaking palm. “You’re wrinkling.”
“It’s slow,” RT answered slowly. “But I may not be here when you return. I fear I’m almost at my limit.”
“Is he worth this?” Mattius asked as he folded the sketch up and tucked it into his pocket. “Is he worth dying for?”
RT nodded. “He is, he really is. He’s the future Mattius. A real king, a worthy one that will lead us to the golden age.”
“Why not tell him everything then, he doesn’t know a single thing about the game you’re playing.”
“I can’t yet. Everything has to fall perfectly or the future will change. I haven’t lived for as long as I have to all of a sudden, change the future. Any other way, and Maniar and Eonak will not be safe.”
“Damn it RT,” Mattias whispered, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”
RT chuckled. “I know. You’re a good soldier. You grew up well.”
“And this second halfing you were warned about, it’s most definitely the Prince? You’re sure about that?”
RT nodded. “Before the Elder died, he warned me about a human becoming a Kukouk halfling and attempting to kill Tian. Someone who was going crazy in the head. The Prince is already moving behind my back, I know it will be him. I’ve watched him grow up.”
“Even killing the King who’s his…”
RT simply stated. “If the King lives, then Tian can’t take his place at the top. Anyway, he’s just as bad as the Prince. He has to go. You knew that the day you joined me in this fucking crusade. This is what you signed up for.”
“You’re asking a lot from us when you carry out this assassination, you know.”
“I would trust no one better to help. The future will become brighter. There will only be destruction and suffering if the Prince takes the place of the King. Wars, deaths, the Prince believes he’s playing the hero, but he will become the enemy.”
“Shit,” Mattius sighed, rubbing his forehead. He smoothed out his eyebrows nervously. “You think I wouldn’t trust your reasoning? You’re like 300 years old dude, I guess I can get behind that reasoning. I’m tired of killing the innocent for the wealthy. It’s time we gave the Capital back to those that deserve it. But I also know that you love Tian, and I pray it doesn’t cloud your judgement some day.”
RT laughed quietly, looking over at Mattias. “We’ll, I’ve been inside his head most of his life. I got to know him.”
Mattias stretched his arms up over his head, letting them rest back, against his shoulders. “Yeah, all the boys know. You’re still playing one hell of a dangerous game. You tweak things ever so gently, it’s astounding.”
“It’s called patience, Mattius. We are on the precipice of a Golden Age or an apocalyptic nuclear, chaotic age. Either humanity repeats its past, or humanity evolves with the Kukouk and becomes a beacon of hope.”
Tian was awoken by a light knocking on his door. Sunlight filtered into the room ever so gently, casting early morning rays over his face. He rolled over in his bed with a groan, burrowing deeper into the blankets. The maids usually brought in food and left, but the morning had been quiet. The intruder knocked once more before opening the door. Tian shot up in bed, ready to pounce only to see a young boy standing across from him with a striking resemblance to someone Tian knew.
He couldn’t be more than 17 with long black hair and pale, snowy skin. He was a spitting image of RT, only smaller and more compact in size. The boy raised his hand in greeting, a beaming smile planted on his face. “Morning Tian!”
“Who are you?”
“Shen Yan!” The boy stated before stepping forward. “I was sent to fetch you for today. It’s going to be awesome! You’re going to meet all the guys and get ice cream. God, I hope we have ice cream. My paycheck doesn’t always help me afford it. But sometimes I can’t help myself.”
The boy trailed off, mumbling to himself as he started to sort through the clothes Tian had been given. He tossed a set to the Kukouk boy before sitting down at the table. “...but also he doesn’t like chocolate? And I like chocolate, and that’s so weird! But it’s all good because strawberries are great. But guess what, he doesn’t like strawberry either! RT said it’s something about his taste buds changing, a Kukouk thing. Mani is full-blooded so it’s going to get harder on him for a while, and he isn’t going to like half the things he used to.”
“It’s like a second puberty Shen,” a familiar voice sighed as the larger version came into the room. RT was ruffled with darker eye bags than usual. “You haven’t even hit your first yet. Be patient, I’m sure he’ll come out of it in time.”
Shen Yan glared, crossing his arms with a huff. “Well, that wasn’t nice Big Bro.”
“He’s your brother?” Tian asked in shock.
Shen shook his head quickly. “No, but we look similar, don’t we?”
“Enough chatter,” RT replied with a gentle smile. Tian’s heart suddenly skipped a beat and a warm sense of feeling settled deep into his bones. “Get the other boys up and ready, we had a long night and they’ve probably all missed their alarms. Again.”
“Fine,” Shen Yan huffed one more before waving at Tian. “Nice meeting you ! RT doesn’t stop talking about you. Seriously! He even draws your face…”
RT slapped him upside the back of his head and kicked him out of the room with his large boot. “He’s lying!”
“I’m sure he is,” Tian chuckled before rolling out of bed. He grabbed his clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. He showered quickly and covered his marks with the makeup from before. “Am I good?”
RT nodded numbly. “Your hair isn’t brushed.”
Tian ran his fingers through it quickly, rearranging the blonde and brown as best as possible. “Better?”
RT shrugged before picking up a brush. He turned Tian around and started to work out the tangles quietly. “Do you want me to put it up?”
“My short hair?” Tian asked, pulling the brush out of the man’s hand. “Amusing. Mine’s not as long as your own. It’ll be fine the way it is. Where are we going today?”
“Somewhere fun!” RT stated before pulling Tian out of the door.
A large, black van was waiting for them behind the castle. A guy with bright blue hair hopped out, offering his hand in greeting. “I’m Luke, RT”s best friend.”
“That’s Mattius,” another voice commented in amusement.
“Well, I’m like his brother.”
“Nope! That’s me!” Shen Yan shouted in glee, popping his head out from the window. He waved at Tian excitedly, bonking his head against the top of the car and disappearing with a pained groan.
“You’re my nuisance,” RT replied before pushing Luke back into the passenger’s seat.
Tian chuckled quietly, but the laughter grew quickly and bubbled up, out of his chest. RT turned and looked at him oddly before gesturing to the back seat. A bald man patted the seat beside him. Tian glanced back at RT briefly before getting in.
As soon as Tian was situated, the bald man extended his hand. “I’m Simon.”
Tian heard something crunch behind him. He jumped in surprise, turning around the seat to look back at the two boys sitting in the very back.
“I’ve got chips!” Shen Yan shouted. One of the yellow, oval shaped disks landed in Tian’s lap. “That one’s for you! It’s a potato!”
The driver’s door slammed shut as RT got in and adjusted his seat. “Shen he doesn’t know what chips are.”
“Preposterous! I just learnt that word by the way!” Shen Yan shouted, peeking around the corner of the seat and setting the whole, open bag on Tian’s lap right as the car started to move. “That’s for you as well. I got more chips. Right here.”
“Bryan, how many bags does he have back there?” Luke asked, peeking his head around his own seat.
Something hit the back of Tian’s seat and scuffling erupted behind him. Tian turned to watch the brown headed boy trying to grab an entire cardboard box out from beneath Shen’s seats. The smaller boy’s hands were dug into the tanned skin of the newer man. Chips flew everywhere, sliding underneath the seats and near their feet.
“Stop it!” RT shouted, looking back at the scuffle through the rear-view mirror. “I’ll turn this thing around if you don’t stop.”
The two boys stilled, the newer one, Bryan, dropped the box numbly. Shen Yan started to dig through his box of chips before tossing a yellow bag at Bryan’s head. He lobbed it hard, bouncing it off the man’s temple.