Element of the Abstract: Chapter Eleven
The next day, Osryn awoke to the familiar sound of his children arguing.
“I’m sorry okay?” Adelaide was saying. “I thought I wasn’t tired!”
“You thought, huh? Well, you thought wrong!” Sebastian growled back. With a sigh, Osryn found his glasses, put them on, and got dressed. He emerged from the tent looking exhausted and disheveled–– more so than usual.
“What in blue blazes is going on?” He grumbled, scratching his head. “I’m trying to sleep, don’t you know?”
“Adelaide fell asleep during watch, and she didn’t wake anyone up!”
”You are such a snitch!” Adelaide huffed. “Why does it matter, anyway? Nothing happened, okay? We’re alright!”
“Something could have happened,” Urta said, and she took those words to heart more so than those of her brother. “It was irresponsible, Adelaide.”
“I’ll do the lecturing, thank you,” Osryn said, raising his eyebrows. Urta realized he was overstepping his bounds and backed off, apologetically. “You couldn’t have woken someone up?”
Adelaide sighed, hanging her head. “It came over me too quickly… I didn’t even realize until Sebastian woke me up.”
“Well, Urta’s right. That was very irresponsible. I thought I raised you to be smarter than that, Adelaide. We were left completely vulnerable all night.”
Adelaide bit her lower lip and a pang of anxiety flew through Osryn. She always did that when she was trying not to cry. She swallowed and said, “Why do you always make it about you? ‘I’ trained you, ‘I’ taught you better? Do you even care about me?”
It was far too early in the morning for Osryn to be walking on this many eggshells. He clasped his hands. “Darling, I care about you more than you can ever understand.”
“Why don’t you show it, then?” She cried, and as the tears began to flow, she turned away and dashed into the woods. “You’re always so selfish! I hate you!”
Sebastian watched her run into the undergrowth and collapse next to a distant tree. He shrugged. “I should have kept watch anyway.”
Urta had been watching this whole thing go down from the ground, tending a fire with a pot over it. Seeing Osryn on the verge of collapsing from lack of caffeine and fatherly stress, he beckoned him over. “Come sit down, Osryn. I’m about to make some coffee.”
Wordlessly, Osryn sat down next to Urta, hugging his knees to his chest. Urta allowed him some silence to ruminate as he waited for the pot of water to boil, then took it off the portable metal stand he’d erected over the fire and poured some into two clay mugs. He handed one to Osryn, who nodded gratefully and blew on it a few times before taking a sip. He scrunched his face up slightly. Urta chuckled.
“Don’t care for instant coffee, huh?”
Osryn tilted his head ambivalently. “It’s fine. I’ve had it before. I’d be lying if I said it compared to my fresh-ground beans.”
“Oh, do you get it from Solelio?” Urta asked with a smile. “I’ve seen some of the farms.”
Osryn nodded absently, staring into the flames and allowing the scent of the coffee to fill his nostrils. Sebastian was lurking around the edge of the clearing, seemingly debating whether he should go talk to Adelaide or leave her alone. Urta sighed and addressed the elephant in the room.
“Teenagers say things sometimes,” he started. “That doesn’t mean they mean it.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Osryn exhaled and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. It was a brisk morning, no more than an hour after sunrise, and it seemed to chill him straight to the bone. The cold front his daughter had put up sure didn’t help. “This isn’t anything new. She can be… difficult.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” Urta said. “At least, it doesn’t seem like she does. What do I know, I’m just a random guy.”
Osryn gave half a laugh to that, but his gloomy demeanor quickly returned. “I just feel like I’ve done everything wrong and nothing right. Is it too much to ask for me to know how to do something right by them? I feel like I’ve been flying blind since the day they came to me. I’m just trying to be there for her...”
Urta didn’t rush into a response, nursing his coffee for a moment. “I’m not a father, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I think you just need to be patient with them, especially her. She seems to like having her own autonomy, so maybe being too ‘there for her’ as you say is overwhelming to her. Maybe she needs you to step back a bit and let her handle some things on her own.”
Osryn groaned, burying his head in his cloaked knees. “I’m just so tired… we’ve been out here for less than a day and they’re already driving me off the deep end. It’s not just them either. I’m just… so tired.”
Urta raised his eyebrows. “Oh, come on. They’re not that bad. It’ll be fine. Cheer up, sorcerer. Isn’t there a spell for that?”
Osryn lifted his head and locked eyes with Urta, solemn as the grave. “There’s plenty of spells that could cure what ails me... through death. I’m afraid the idea of becoming sweet nothing has been tempting me for far too long.”
Urta turned toward the fire, prodding at the coals and putting a new log on it. It was awkward now, and Osryn realized it was his fault. Why was he baring his soul to this stranger? Perhaps it was because Daniela had become numb to his existential moaning many years ago. This man, to whom Osryn was a stranger, was here to listen. Maybe he could say something no one else had ever managed to say, something that would pierce through the depression.
Maybe. Maybe all Urta was thinking was, “No wonder his kids are so screwed up.”
Apparently Sebastian had managed to calm Adelaide down enough that they returned to the clearing, hand in hand. Osryn heard them approach, but was too ashamed to address her. Luckily, she addressed him.
“Dad, I’m sorry. For falling asleep and for being mean to you.”
“I’m sorry for being so hard on you. You’re just as human as you are Insectera; it’s my job to make your life easier, not harder. I feel like I only do the latter.”
Adelaide rolled her eyes and crouched down next to her father, wrapping her many arms around him. “Dad, you’re gonna be okay. We all are.”
No longer feeling as though he was sliding into the deep end, Osryn was able to get moving and the group was packed and ready within an hour. Urta guided them further for a few more miles. The hemlock-hardwood forest was beginning to be more dominated by pines and firs. The understory was open with very few low branches or undergrowth, but the canopy was thick with needles and it made sense that few smaller plants could get enough light. Osryn was losing his breath and his pace slowed steadily. Eventually he was panting so hard he stopped and leaned against a tree, closing his eyes and attempting to regulate his breathing. Adelaide noticed he had stopped and told Urta and Sebastian to hold up.
“Dad, are you alright?”
He inhaled deeply through his nose, exhaling out his mouth. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m just a little tired is all. Your old man’s not used to walking around this much.”
Adelaide rolled her eyes. “Yet we’re the lazy ones.”
“Oh hush,” Osryn said, clutching his hand to his chest and taking a few moments to catch breath. Eventually, he was breathing well enough to continue and he nodded. “Alright, I’m ready.”
Before they had even traversed a hundred feet, Sebastian stopped suddenly and whipped out his wand. Adelaide too had her staff quickly at the ready. Osryn groaned inaudibly–– this again. He readied a small ball of plasma in each hand. From all directions, strange moths were flapping their wings and fluttering towards them, but the creatures seemed like more than just moths; they were the size of a chicken and had large pincers. Everyone was ready this time, for a battle, and combat kicked off quite effectively with Sebastian taking out two of them in one lightning strike. Even Osryn had to admit, his control with his wand had gotten better over time.
Osryn himself was easily able to take a few out before they got close to him. Adelaide cast her staff sideways with a dramatic flair of her hands, knocking a moth away from Sebastian before it could pinch him from behind. Urta had his handgun out again, and was running around the flanks of the fight, picking off moths from a distance. Osryn noticed he had rather good aim from over fifteen meters away, and he appreciated the man’s conscious efforts to take some of the fight off his children’s shoulders.
Though, it was amazing how well they were fighting together. Whether it was because Adelaide’s words about his recklessness had gotten through to Sebastian, or because they simply knew each other’s behaviors so well, they had managed to synchronize their fighting so well it almost looked like it was a dance. Sebastian’s lightning carried on Adelaide’s mist, so if she sent her staff forward on a stream of mist, towards an enemy, Sebastian could electrify the current and then could take down any unlucky moths that happened to fly through in the process. If there was one thing that had been consistent among all the Insectera they had ever fought, it was that they were not that smart.
The moths kept coming, but the children were determined to take them down, with Urta and Osryn supplementing the effort. Soon enough, fewer and fewer bird-sized moths were coming at them, until one, the largest, swooped quicker than any of the others towards Adelaide from behind.
“Watch out!” Osryn cried, and Adelaide whirled around just in time, whipping her staff around with her and knocking the moth back a few feet. It was hardly stunned, however, and it clicked its pincers in Sebastian’s direction before dive-bombing him.
He dashed out of the way and called out to Adelaide, “Cover me!”
Adelaide nodded and grabbed her staff in her hands, batting the moth away repeatedly as it attempted to land a blow on her. Sebastian was charging his wand while she did that. It was mesmerizing to Osryn watching his son channel so much of his energy into the wand such a famous sorcerer as Haelstron had once owned. He thought of this man who he idolized so, and wondered why his wand had decided to choose Sebastian of all people. It must have been destiny, Osryn decided in that moment, that he named his son for the man whose wand would someday choose him.
Finally, Sebastian unleashed his charged lightning bolt and Adelaide jumped out of the way. The moth had no time to dodge the rapid attack and it collapsed to the ground. All was quiet but for the heavy breathing of the four exhausted travelers.
“That… was… badass!” Sebastian yelled, jumping in the air with his wand in his hand. “Did you see that?”
“That was amazing, kids,” Osryn smiled, opening his arms for them to give him a hug, but neither seemed interested. He looked proudly at both his children and gave Adelaide a small nod, which she returned. “Both of you did so amazing in that fight. Do you see what can happen when you take your time and think ahead?”
Three of Sebastian’s leftward eyes twitched. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Are you seriously still trying to criticize me?”
Osryn blinked. “I- No, of course not! What are you talking about?”
“You’re being passive-aggressive, don’t think I’m too stupid to realize,” Sebastian muttered, pushing his hair back out of his face. “You just need me to know that I only was a decent fighter because I had my sister’s help. That’s what you’re saying to me.”
Osryn clenched his fists. “By the stars, I said no such thing! Your insolence is not your best quality, my boy. What, is my pride not good enough for you?”
“Why should I be happy to receive pity pride?” Sebastian rolled his eyes. “I get it. You don’t need to pretend.”
“I only want you to realize the true potential of your strength!” Osryn told him. “You’re so unique, we know not if there is a limit to what you two are capable of. How will you live up to the best of your capabilities without a hard shove in the right direction?”
Sebastian laughed, glaring straight into Osryn’s eyes. Osryn hated having three times as many eyes as he had himself trained on him, and full of malice. “You’ve been shoving me in some direction for years, but how do you know it’s the right one? What do you know of being strong? Being powerful? That’s not your boat, father. That is ours.”
“Lay off, Sebastian,” Adelaide put two hands on his shoulder, but he shook them off.
“Why should I? He says he cares about legacy and being remembered, but all he does is philosophize about stupid scrolls. What about that is memorable? Do you really think you’re a good role model?”
Osryn was speechless. He looked helplessly to Adelaide, who only shook her head and kept quiet. She couldn’t be faulted, really, for wanting to stay out of it. To defend one would be to scorn the other, and both men were already acting particularly sensitive.
“You’re not powerful, father,” Sebastian held his wand out to show him. “Powerful people take risks. Maybe you’ve never done anything with your life because you’re simply a coward.”
“Okay, knock it off, Sebastian, for real!” Adelaide’s harsh words seemed to pierce through his furious haze and he shook his head. Sebastian looked at her, then to his father’s pitiful face, then sighed.
“I’m not apologizing for what I said. Why should I? He’s never apologized.” Sebastian kicked the corpse of a moth-bird a few meters and huffed. “Whatever. I need to piss.”
He stormed off, leaving Adelaide and Urta alone with Osryn. They were trying not to look too much like they pitied him, but it was obvious–– the man’s expression was far too hollow not to be pitied. He reminded himself what Urta said, about how sometimes kids could just be mean, but Sebastian’s harsh words had cut him straight to the core. Adelaide patted him on the shoulder.
“There, there…” She mumbled, but it felt awkward, comforting her father. After all, he’d just been made a fool of by his own son, and by Adelaide herself earlier that day. Urta hung back as he always did, but Osryn was aware of him watching, worrying. Frankly, Osryn was already getting a little sick of the man’s omnipresence. Having a stranger bear witness to the mundane arguments and conflicts between his family was unnerving. Adelaide knew not what to say to Osryn to make him feel better, but Osryn wouldn’t have known how to reply.
They would leave him. He knew now, they would. Whatever they find, wherever these creatures are coming from, Osryn’s children would leave him behind for their new “family.” Their real family. Even if their family was nothing but a ditch full of worms and maggots, he was certain his children would prefer anything to the hell he apparently put them through. It was crushing to think they might so quickly disappear, the most meaningful things in the world to him. The soul of his last seventeen years.
Adelaide squeezed his shoulders in four different places, and he exhaled, grounding himself in reality. Sebastian returned to the group now, expectantly standing with his arms crossed and wand in hand waiting for them to get going. He had nothing to say for himself that hadn’t already been said. Osryn sighed and stood up. Adelaide exchanged a glance with Sebastian, who still wouldn’t speak.
It was Urta who broke the family’s tension. “You know, you two really do work wonders as a team. I have never seen such intuitive cooperative fighting.”
Adelaide blushed and brushed her hair off her shoulder. “Well, as long as I can get him to stop diving into my line of fire, we’re pretty good.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “As long as she watches where she’s aiming, she means.”
Eyes all around fell to Osryn, though Sebastian’s flickered away. The sorcerer gulped and shifted his cloaks. In a moment he could never have realized he would regret as much as he would come to, Osryn could not shake the bitterness he felt towards his son. He looked towards his daughter. “Adelaide, you’re very skilled. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that your team efforts are coordinated.”
Sebastian could only scoff at the blatant disregard. Adelaide shook her head, as though she were the mother disappointed in her son. Osryn flushed, but there was no taking it back now. The tension was palpable.
“Well… Shall we be going?” Urta asked hesitantly, and Sebastian’s answer was walking forward in the direction they had been traveling. Having successfully ostracized his son, Osryn sighed and manned the back of what had become a rather sorry group.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins