Element of the Abstract: Chapter Sixteen
It was high noon, and the sun started fading out of the sky. At first, no one paid much mind to it, assuming that clouds were simply covering it. The native Lunorans were more used to a cloudy sky than a sunny one, after all. The darkness was quickening abnormally, however, and it was not long before it resembled early evening. Sebastian stopped first and narrowed his eyes, now uncovered.
“Is it just me or is it weirdly dark right now?”
Adelaide looked around. “You know, you’re right. Is it cloudy?”
Urta shook his head, furrowing his thick brow. “This is far darker than even the cloudiest of days.”
“Let’s keep moving,” Osryn said, still eager to put as much distance between them and the Hansklau farm as he possibly could. “If it’s something to worry about, we’ll know.”
Adelaide nodded, readying her staff in a position apt for fighting. Sebastian was less concerned, rolling his eyes and shoving his hands in his pockets. The four hiked onward and the sky darkened and darkened until stars began to glimmer above. Sebastian stopped a few more times to gaze at them and remark on how strange it was, but Adelaide and Osryn maintained that they should just keep moving–– perhaps they could see what was causing it. It was not long before the sky was dark as midnight and a shimmering belt of billions of stars sprayed out above them in perfect clarity.
Now, there was no ignoring it. No one was free from the spell of the midday night sky. Even the darkest of nights in the remotest of locations had never revealed stars so bright to Osryn, and it was clear the other three were even more blown away.
Sebastian’s wandering eyes were the first to fall away from the sight, landing on yet another strange one. “Wow… that’s… beautiful.”
Sebastian’s words were a soft murmur, but Adelaide heard and turned around, where she saw what he saw and her mouth opened slightly. Osryn and Urta followed suit and soon, they were all entranced by the sight of a mystical woodland pool. It was a small body of water, no more than two meters in diameter, and its water rippled in the soft evening wind. Around it, dozens of fireflies flickered in the moonlight, their glows streaking across the sky and around the pool itself. The trees around were verdant, illuminated by the reflection of moonlight from the pool, with vines covered in blue and white moon flowers dangling down from every one. Tentatively, Osryn approached the pool.
“What… is this place?” He murmured, watching his face ripple in the water’s reflection.
“Some kind of magical clearing?” Adelaide speculated, reaching out to touch one of the vines that dangled around them.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, have you?” Urta asked Osryn.
“No…” Osryn was slowly becoming more and more entranced with the pool in front of him. The ripples and ridges of his face, the streaks of light as fireflies flew past and around him. The others felt compelled to join him in kneeling over the pool. In that moment, Osryn was there, by the bank of a mysterious pool, and surrounded by his traveling companions.
In the next moment, he was a child.
“Father, why must I read this?” Young Osryn moaned, flipping the book he’d been reading over to examine its cover. “None of this makes sense. It’s boring.”
Joseff Seld was a hard-faced factory foreman who had worked in Lunora his entire life and hardly seen more than pennies for it. He glared at his son from behind thin-rimmed glasses. “It’s the scripture, son. It’s the word prophets discerned from the stars, of the moon and sun.”
Osryn wanted to say, ‘Do you even know how you sound right now?’ but he’d been clobbered in the head enough times to know when rudeness would not benefit him. He pouted and re-read the words on the cover: The Stellar Word. Frankly, to Osryn, the stories of ancient peoples who communed with deities living within celestial bodies were far-fetched and unfounded.
“Fine… but can we at least get ice cream later?”
Joseff had only scoffed and turned the page of his newspaper. “You do not get rewarded for adhering to the scripture. You simply obey the word of the stars.”
Young Osryn now was at the dinner table, seated at the far end of the table from his father. To his sides, his mother and brother stared at him expectantly. His father’s eyes bore into him worst of all, and all Osryn knew to do was shift under the weight of it. Nervously, Osryn blew out the singular candle on the cake his mother had made to celebrate his birthday. No one cheered. No one sang. The formality had been taken care of, and it was time for the heart of the matter.
“You’re fourteen, Osryn,” Joseff told him. “It’s time for you to get a job.”
Osryn sighed. He’d known this was coming, as his father had hinted at it rather heavily. “But father, I don’t want to work. I just started high school and I have so much homework.”
“The education system is a sham, Osryn,” His dear mother, one dim and lifeless Mariana Seld, reminded him. “Your father didn’t finish high school…”
“And look where that got him…” Osryn muttered under his breath. Joseff slammed a fist on the table, shaking the plates and knocking wax from the side of the pewter candelabra onto the dingy tablecloth.
“You are so ungrateful!” Joseff boomed. “I slave away at the factory every day for this family, you know that? I come home and what do I get? Rudeness. Insolence. You are the eldest son, Osryn. When will you realize what that entails?”
Osryn slunk back in his chair. He avoided eye contact with eleven year-old Nygel, who he knew must be eating this up. Nygel kissed up to both of them so often–– he was rarely the one who got in trouble. Not like Osryn. Not like difficult, disobedient, back-talking Osryn.
“I just… I just want to learn…” He said softly and Joseff rolled his eyes, scoffing and sipping his whiskey.
“Oh you’ll learn, alright.” Joseff growled. “You’ll learn when the world kicks you down.” A silence overtook the family until Joseff broke it with a sigh. “But what do I know, right? I’m just your goddamn father...”
A door slammed, and Osryn, eighteen now, was the one slamming it.
“I’m leaving, father!” He yelled up the stairs from the foyer, suitcase in tow. He’d grown his hair down to his shoulders, much to his father’s dismay, and wore a rather nice jacket that he’d managed to afford with money from the job he’d gotten as a market clerk–– money that Joseff had been hoping would go to the family. “I’m leaving, and I’m never coming back.”
“And stay out,” Nygel said snidely from the den where he was scribbling out some sort of letter on a piece of parchment. He didn’t even look up at his brother at the door. “You’ve never liked it here anyway.”
“You’re ridiculous, boy,” Osryn’s father emerged from his room and stomped only to the top of the stairs. He wasn’t going to bother himself coming any closer for this sort of foolishness. “You won’t last one minute on your own at your damned university. You know they don’t even carry The Stellar Word in their library? Blasphemous, if you ask me.”
“Honey…” Mariana started, having emerged from the kitchen, but she didn’t know how to finish. She looked anxious, like she wanted to prevent her dear boy from leaving, but she’d been passive in the matter for too long. The damage had been done–– Osryn no longer felt welcome in that home. He took one last look around the house he grew up in and took a deep breath.
“I’m over it, father. Your words don’t affect me anymore.”
And Osryn was gone.
He arrived, years later again, at university.
“You can’t be serious,” A young Daniela Macron–– no, she was Daniela Cassius, then–– was twirling her long auburn hair around her index finger, gazing up at Osryn from where she reclined on a stone wall outside their biology lab. “You’ll be a laughing stock if you’re wrong. Do you think you can pull it off?”
“Of course,” Osryn told her, flashing the wide toothy smile she’d always loved so much. “I’m not an idiot. I know this has potential. However, I think it’d be better if we both worked on it.”
Daniela blinked, rose to a seated position and hugged her knees. “You want me to work with you on your thesis on the link between genetics and magic?”
“I don’t see why not,” Osryn shrugged and rose to stand, walking aimlessly along the wall just to feel it under his bare feet. He whirled around to face Daniela and took in the beauty of her face–– her rounded jawline, her bright green eyes, the little freckles that splattered across her nose. “I like you, and I think you’re amazingly intelligent. So, if it seems interesting to you, I’d gladly take you on as a partner. It’s a four-year undertaking, after all–– I could use the help.”
Daniella nodded excitedly and jumped up as well. The two walked towards each other and met halfway. “Of course I will, Osryn. Interesting? It seems revolutionary!”
Osryn rolled his eyes, deflecting the compliment with a wave of his hand. “Oh, come on… It’s just a simple study. I’ve seen compelling evidence that certain genes are linked to a force unknown… I’d just like to prove it to the world.”
Daniella’s eyes met his and his breath caught briefly in his throat. She was entrancing, and against all odds, it seemed she was equally entranced. He blushed, and she shifted nervously before speaking. “Osryn, I’ve wanted to tell you something for a while now…”
Osryn was speechless for a moment as she took both his hands in hers, but managed to squeak out, “What is it?”
“I… like you.”
“Well, I like you too, Daniela.”
“No, I mean. I really like you. I’d like to go on a date.”
Osryn blinked. “You mean, like… to the cafeteria?”
Daniela rolled her eyes and laughed at him, causing his face to fire up even brighter. “No, stupid. Like a real date. Like, I want to date you.”
Osryn had never heard those words before and they filled him with a newfound sense of vigor. He squeezed her hands and his smile returned. There was nothing he wanted to say to her, and one thing he desperately wanted to do. So there, standing awkwardly on a campus wall, Osryn kissed Daniela for the first time.
The moment did not last long before Osryn was transported forward in time to another, one year later, in the biology lab of their school. Daniela was not talking much as Osryn banged his head over the data he was making an attempt to analyze.
“It just doesn’t make sense, Dee!” Osryn sighed, shoving the papers away from him as if he couldn’t bear to look at them. “What the hell is missing? You have a variable, you solve for x. But what the fuck is x?”
Daniela sighed and walked over to where he was, leaning over him and putting a hand on his shoulder. She kissed the top of his head and wrapped her arms around his chest. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply and clutched at her arm with one of his, holding it to his heart. “I’m just so tired, Daniela. I don’t think I have what it takes after all… there’s just something I don’t know… something I can’t figure out.”
“I ran the numbers too, Osryn. I see what you see–– there’s no answer. It’s impossible. Something is just missing.” She was quiet for a moment before she dared to raise her suggestion. “Perhaps it’s wise to give up, Osryn.”
He pushed her hands away and turned over his shoulder to scowl at her. “You’re telling me to give up after I’ve worked so hard on this? What am I supposed to do my thesis on, hm?”
Daniela sighed and reached down to scratch her elbow. “I don’t know, anything? You’re brilliant, Osryn. You could do so many things… I know it’s compelling to be the first man to discover a missing link, but what if it’s impossible? What if your hypothesis is simply unfounded? Part of science, dear, is knowing when to admit defeat.”
Osryn scoffed and pushed his chair out, standing and pacing around the room, fingers entwined. “Screw that! I’m not wrong, you see?! Perhaps I cannot prove it in a way that is clear to the layman’s eye, but Daniela, do you not see it too?”
“I see it,” Daniela said softly. “But I also see no feasible path to obtaining scientific proof.”
Osryn sighed, stopping in his tracks to lean against the chalkboard, where some old notes from another class were fading away. “I suppose… I just really wanted this. Is that crazy? To have wanted to be known for this? I want my name in a parenthetical citation, stars be damned!”
Daniela supported her weight on the back of the chair Osryn had evacuated. “I don’t think you’re crazy at all, darling. Just dedicated. Passionate. Hard-working.”
“And what does it get me, all those things?” Osryn sighed, slumping down the chalkboard onto the ground and hanging his head low. “Nothing. I have nothing to show for any of those so-called virtues…”
“Nothing?” Daniela scoffed, heading over to where he was slumped and crouching down next to him. She pushed his long black hair out of his face and pressed a tender, lingering kiss to his lips.
Osryn wrapped his arms around her torso and when her lips pulled away from his, blinked at her through wide bespectacled eyes. “Alright… perhaps I may have something.”
“The only thing that matters,” Daniela teased, flicking him in the nose with her index finger. “Don’t you forget that.”
She was crouching in front of him again, less than a year later.
“I know this is far from traditional, but the time I’ve spent with you has been the most amazing time in my life. I love you more than I have ever known how to love.”
Daniela Cassius opened the small wooden box to reveal a sleek black polished steel ring. Osryn’s mouth fell agape.
“Osryn Seld, will you marry me?”
“But Daniela...” Osryn murmured, shaking his head rapidly and narrowing his eyes. “I- I’m leaving the university to study with Cornellius. I’m going to dedicate my life to the study of the abstract!”
“Your plans are abstract, Osryn,” Daniela told him, smiling softly. “A life with me is concrete. I want to be with you, Osryn… do you want to be with me?”
Osryn hesitated. “I do, Daniela, I… I do. But––”
“D- Don’t say it…” Daniela slapped the box shut and stood up, wiping at the first trickles of tears. “You’ve always loved your work more than you loved our relationship. It’s... fine. I was stupid to even dream.”
“Daniela! I- I love you, I don’t want to lose you,” Osryn gasped, grabbing her arm as she tried to abscond. “Please, Dee. Don’t take this to mean I want nothing to do with you.”
Daniela ripped her arm away and looked off into the distance. “It’s not your fault, Osryn. I should have known better. You have goals. You have dreams. I know you’ll do something amazing someday... without me.”
The mirage of memories that had overtaken Osryn was beginning to fade, but as his universe crumbled into fragments and dissolved back into reality, Osryn found himself sitting in the study he’d occupied for years, reading a periodical beside his aging mentor Cornellius. Cornellius was the archetypal paragon of old-man wizardry, with a long white beard, kind, knowing eyes, and a tendency to wear flowing pale robes. That said, he was a man with history, sporting small silver hoop earrings, several other body and face piercings, and the eccentricities caused by years of hallucinogen abuse in his youth. If he wore a summer shirt, a sleeve of ink upon his arm could also be seen. He was a man content in his past, present and future–– something Osryn had never learned to imitate.
“Cornellius, sir, how long do I have to wait?”
Cornellius furrowed his eyebrows. “What do you mean, son?”
“How long until I learn something that can change the world?”
Chuckling heartily, Cornellius slapped Osryn a few times lightly on the back, jolting him slightly. “Only time will tell, sonny. Only time will tell.”
The last remaining fragments of his late mentor’s face shattered and Osryn found himself slumped over the bank of the mystical pool, head lolling over the edge. Groggily, he attempted to lift himself up, finding that his ponytail had fallen into the water. His head was swirling, but at least he knew where––and for that matter, when––he was now.
“What… was that?” The voice was Sebastian’s, and Osryn turned to see him rising from an equally collapsed position.
“The past, I think…” Adelaide said, rubbing her head and taking a breath as a bout of vertigo hit. “Did everyone see their past?”
“Oh, I saw it alright…” Osryn grumbled, squeezing some of the water out of his thick, coarse hair. “I lived it. Like I needed a reminder that my life has been worthless.”
“Wow, glad I could assist…” Sebastian muttered, but Osryn was too worked up from what he’d seen––no, experienced––to formulate a remark. Osryn made an active effort to avoid thinking about two things: his parents and his failed relationship with Daniela. Evidently, this pool, or whatever had caused such vivid and intense hallucinations, was out to get him. Once, he had big dreams. Tangible ways forward, paths he could have taken that would lead him to where he wanted to be–– where was that, exactly? For Osryn had wanted to be something all his life, yet when asked, he knew not what it was he truly wanted to be. A scholar? A wizard? A father? All of these were words that could describe him, but none of them truly felt like who Osryn was meant to be. What could have happened if he hadn’t made the choices he did?
Well, he wouldn’t have Adelaide and Sebastian.
Managing to tear himself away from his spiraling thoughts, Osryn looked at his children, who were wandering around the edge of the pool and examining their surroundings. Adelaide was pondering deeply–– he could tell by the way she bit her lip. Urta, meanwhile, had not spoken since the vision. Osryn turned his attention to the man at last.
“Urta? Are you alright?”
He was pale, and his eyes were narrow and cast towards the vision of himself in the pool. For a moment, Osryn thought he was still entranced in the hallucination. Soon enough, though, he turned towards Osryn, mouth slightly open and eyes dull. “Uh, yeah… Just a little… shaken.”
“You’re telling me.” Osryn inhaled through his teeth.
Urta didn’t respond, only staring again at his reflection in the water. This concerned Osryn slightly, but not enough for him to say anything further.
“Do you feel the same energy I feel, Sebastian?” Adelaide asked. “Coming from the fireflies, I mean.”
Sebastian paused to sense his surroundings. “Yeah, actually. It’s subtle, but I feel it.”
“I think it’s possible, even likely, that the visions we saw were caused by the abstract energy emitted by the insects,” Adelaid theorized. “The strength of the current seems to wax and wane, like those Levician garnets we studied. They gave off hallucinogenic compounds, right? Maybe this is the same kind of thing.”
Osryn smiled and nodded. “You’re probably right, Adelaide. As always, I’m blown away by your deductive reasoning.”
She didn’t hear him. In fact, they were both ignoring him now, focused on catching and examining a few of the many bugs. Osryn sighed. Were they doing alright? Was it his fault if they weren’t? How was he ever supposed to get through to them if they didn’t listen? He felt like he was running out of time. He wouldn’t be in their life forever. Osryn watched the firebugs flicker through the sky and wondered if all life was as fleeting as their light.
“We gotta get out of here,” Urta stood up suddenly, adjusting his pack and wiping sweat out of his hair. Why was he so sweaty? His eyes were wild and his posture tense. “I hate this place. It’s messing with me. Let’s leave before it happens again.”
“O- Okay,” Osryn wasn’t going to question the man’s logic. He felt rather similarly about the whole ordeal, though it seemed the children were unfazed. Perhaps they were simply too young to have enough life to look back on that would traumatize them. Perhaps Osryn could thank himself for that… or was it a good thing? He didn’t know. He shook the thought out of his head and they all followed Urta into the forest.
The artificial night faded soon enough, and before long they found themselves approaching a city.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins