Element of the Abstract: Chapter Eighteen


“Wow, this isn’t suspicious at all,” Sebastian said, following Urta as he descended the stairs. They descended into total darkness and Urta pulled a small hand-lantern from his pack, lighting it with a match. Sebastian turned to Adelaide. “Hey, do you think he’s going to kill us?”

“Shut up,” Osryn said, taking the back of the line and glimpsing back at the open door behind them. He wouldn’t close it. It was better to leave their escape route free and clear if it did turn out they were in mortal danger. He had come prepared to fight, and the events of the day had only proven to Osryn that he would have to.

The group descended in relative silence, only the shuffling of clothing and the tapping of feet on cement could be heard. Sebastian hung back a few feet behind Urta, maybe just to feel like he would have a quicker chance of getting away if it turned out this was all a trap. Then, the staircase, which seemed to have gone down for miles, ended and a long passageway began. They followed it to the end where there was a large metal double door. It was banged up and battered as though someone had tried to break into it before. Urta slid aside the cover to a panel and looked at it for a moment.

“Hold on a moment. I’m not quite used to this.”

Urta pulled his crystal out of his pocket and his molecules began to rearrange back into their Insectera form. Sebastian backed up a little more, shielding Adelaide, but Urta was obviously not hostile even once transformed. Instead, he turned one of his compound eyes towards the panel, which made a soft beep. A loud clanging noise could be heard as the doors slowly slid apart, a blinding light shining through the crack. Urta transformed back to his human form.

“Why bother doing that?” Osryn asked. “This is the end of our journey, no?”

Urta shrugged and slid through the door just as soon as it was open enough for him to fit. “I’ve grown fond of this form in my time occupying it. Might as well do so as long as I can.”

Osryn and his children all hesitated. He put his hands on both their shoulders.

“Stay strong, alright? We can handle anything they throw at us.”

“I’m ready!” Adelaide said, lifting her staff.

Sebastian smiled. “Let’s kick some ass.”

Osryn crossed the threshold first, letting his children take the back in case there was danger immediately ahead. The first room they entered was small and bright, with fluorescent lights illuminating walls covered with drawings, notes, and diagrams. Rusty lab tables on either side housed ancient implements and assorted pieces of technology Osryn didn’t recognize at all. The place was so anachronistic, even for Solelio, which had experienced a boom of technological advancement over the last few years.

The fluorescent lighting that illuminated the whole lab was common enough for the area, but the strange devices they spotted throughout were something different altogether. Though the room seemed like it had once been a functional laboratory, it showed the wear of time. From the looks of it, the facility had not been used since Haelstron’s death. They soon emerged into a larger room, one with high ceilings and an expansive open design, but before he could examine any of the laboratory’s qualities, Osryn froze when he saw what lay ahead.

The creature was massive. At first glance, Osryn would have called it Insectera, except that it was monolithically large compared to any Urta or wild insect they had encountered thus far. It had the abdomen of a large beetle, but off of it came other abdomens with heads, legs, and antennae of their own. At the top of the main beetle-like body was an apical head with a cluster of compound eyes directly in the center. What made the being the most frightening, however, was not its insect-like features, but its human-like features. Where a normal insect's mouth and pincers would be, there were human lips, and where the protruding bodies off its main one had insect limbs, its main torso had two human arms. Osryn stopped in his tracks about ten meters away from the thing.

“Oh my sun and stars…” He murmured, but before he could process anything further he was grabbed from behind by what he immediately recognized as two unfamiliar Urtas. They pinned his arms on either side of him and held him there.

“Unhand me!” Osryn yelled. He glowered in the direction of their own Urta, whose eyes were cast to the floor. “Urta! I knew it! I knew you were scum.”

Urta said nothing, only staring at the scuffed, once-pristine floor below him.

“Hello, children.” A rumbling voice seemed to echo through the vast underground chamber. It boomed, crooned, and clicked all at the same time. “At long last you stand before me.”

Adelaide had attempted to break off and rescue Osryn, but Sebastian had stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. He gave her a knowing look, and she realized that none of the Urtas that served this being––this master––were trying to hold them back the way they had their father. Still, Adelaide was not one to let such an attack against her family go unrecognized.

“You have restrained my father. I do not take that lightly.” Adelaide started in a strong voice, attempting to even remotely mirror the sheer intensity of the enormous creature’s speech. “Tell me: who are you? What do you seek?”

The thing tilted its head up and made a sound halfway between a laugh and a buzz. “You, children, are all I seek. And here you are, now… in my care.”

“Who are you?” Adelaide repeated, but something about its words made her uneasy.

“I know who you are,” Sebastian said, locking his many eyes with her even more numerous ones. “You’re Urta’s master. No… you’re all the Urta’s master.”

“I am Celine.” The first consonant dragged out like a hiss and the sound of her name filled the room. “You are correct. I am indeed the master of those who crawl and writhe and ooze inhuman blood.”

“Why have you brought us here?” Osryn yelled, impatient with the pace of this whole introduction. He fought against the Urtas, but their grip held fast.

Celine directed her eyes towards Osryn, and for the first time he truly comprehended the weight of her power. She was large, likely encumbered by the seemingly independent beings that comprised her flesh, but there was no doubt in Osryn’s mind that she was capable of killing him if she needed to. Osryn would not free himself yet, but his plasma was his way out if things went south. Her lingering gaze sent a shiver down Osryn’s spine.

“You? I have no use for you…” She pointed a long manicured nail at Osryn, an asynchronous sight amongst her many legs and antennae. “It is the children that I seek... or, I suppose, sought, and seek no more.”

“Yeah, we know…” Adelaide clenched a fist and attempted to remain patient with the creature antagonizing them, but she was, at the end of the day, her father’s daughter. “Why? Why did you make us come all this way in the first place?”

“Well, my darling little Urta has always been so good to me…” She cast her eyes towards Urta, who, still in his human form, refused to meet hers. “Isn’t that right, Urta? You know you’re my favorite.”

Osryn’s eye twitched. There was something sickening about the way she spoke to him–– almost akin to the sickly sweet tone Farmer Kurt had taken with Sebastian. Urta, realizing now he had no choice but to acknowledge his master, looked back at her and smiled sheepishly. “Of course, master Celine. I brought them to you, just like I said I would.”

“Know that you will be rewarded for it.” Celine turned her attention back to the twins. Adelaide was holding her staff out, ready for combat at any moment. Sebastian, however, held defenseless posture–– slouched shoulders and hands in his pockets. “You ask why I brought you here, but the answer is the same as why you came.”

Adelaide narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

Celine’s human lips twisted into a sick smile, revealing that she had teeth as well. “Why did you come here, Adelaide Seld?”

Adelaide shivered, perhaps surprised that the creature knew her name, but why wouldn’t she? She had summoned them here in the first place–– obviously she knew enough. Obviously she knew something they did not.

“I came here to find you,” Adelaide said, finally. “I mean, I didn’t know you were you… but a link. You are the missing link to figuring out where Sebastian and I came from.”

Celine nodded, turning the attention of her main head towards Sebastian. “And you, young one?”

Sebastian shrugged, remaining quiet for a moment, but Celine allowed him the time. After a moment of thought, Sebastian sighed. “I wanted to find out where I belong. Somewhere where people are like me.”

“Such smart little ones. In fact, I brought you here to give you just the answers you seek… isn’t that marvelous?” Celine cooed. The beings (perhaps they themselves were Urtas?) that protruded from every side of her body pulsed as one, shifting around their limbs and heads whenever Celine did. Osryn noticed, or perhaps he was crazy, that some of them exhibited the same jaw-twitch and face scratch that Urta did when he was under stress. Were these attached Urtas suffering constantly at Celine’s hand? The whole scenario was so disturbing, it perturbed Osryn even to speculate.

“So, you want to know who you are?”

Adelaide nodded rapidly and Sebastian only once. Osryn gritted his teeth.

“Well, put simply, you are one of us,” Celine said, crossing her arms. Sebastian glared and she made that same unnerving laugh-like sound. “Fine, I suppose I owe it to you to explain why...” She pointed at the Urta they’d followed all along. “Urta. Care to do the honors? Your story precedes mine, after all…”

“I…” Urta muttered, rubbing his hands together. “I don’t remember, master. You know that.”

Somehow, even to the humanoids in the room, it was obvious Celine had harshened her gaze. “Urta. Try.”

Urta took a deep breath and nervously addressed the Selds. He was unable to maintain eye contact with any of them for more than a moment. “I– My name is Urta. One day, I woke up here looking like… well, you know what I look like. I have no idea who, if anyone, I was before I woke up here. All I know is the life I’ve lived ever since that day, under Celine… and before her, under Sebastian.”

Sebastian raised his eyebrows. “Sebastian? You mean Haelstron?”

Celine smiled and beckoned him towards her with her hands. Sebastian only blinked, not moving an inch. “Yes, my dear. The man who started it all.”

“You’re telling me Sebastian Haelstron built this place?” Osryn glanced around at the high-tech lab. It must have cost a fortune. “And… created you?”

Urta nodded. “He’s… my father, of sorts. The only one I’ve ever known, at least.”

“Did he create us?” Adelaide asked almost desperately, eyes wild with curiosity. “Celine. Tell me… is Sebastian Haelstron our father?”

Celine shook her head and the Urtas attached to her body did the same. “No, dear. How Sebastian obtained Urta, none of us know, but we do know how he cloned him.”

“Clone?” Sebastian narrowed his eyes. “This is beginning to sound like some science-fiction garbage.”

Celine gestured widely to the room around them, the Urtas on her body, the Urtas gathered around, the Urtas holding back their father. “How else do you explain what your eyes are telling you is true? Come now, Sebastian. Your eyes see everything.”

Adelaide was staring at her shoes. Finally, she lifted her head and addressed Celine. “Who are you? Really? I don’t mean who created you, who cloned you… Who are you… to us?”

“You know, child. I’m your mother.”

Osryn could feel his heart sink through his chest like a bowling ball. It seemed too awful to be true, that the monstrosity before him was somehow the genetic link to his children’s existence. But, there was nothing he could do or say that would make it untrue–– and true he knew it was. As soon as she said it, it began to be clear how exactly his children had come into the world.

“Wh- What are you saying?” Adelaide gasped, glancing at Sebastian, who appeared outwardly unfazed. “If Haelstron created Urta, then he must have created you… and if he created you, he must have created us too, right..? So how…”

“I, unlike Urta, remember exactly who I was the day I arrived here…” Celine started. “I awoke next to the man known as Sebastian Haelstron. He told me he had completed me–– perfected me. He told me I was his greatest creation, that he had been waiting his whole life for me. However, I knew this was not who I truly am. I remembered, you see? I remembered my face. I remembered my body.

“This!” Celine gestured to her writhing massive form, anguish rising in her booming voice. “This is not the body I was born with! This is the thing that man turned me into… and I will never forgive him. That day, when I felt my new body and saw my new face… I ended Sebastian Haelstron once and for all.”

“You killed him?” Adelaide exhaled nervously. “W– Well, I don’t suppose I’d blame you.”

“But, there was something else!” Celine held up one finger dramatically, also raising a plethora of her other insect limbs. The Selds were left speechless. “Something Sebastian had known perfectly well when he turned me into this monster…”

“You were pregnant.”

Celine immediately stared daggers at Sebastian, who had interrupted with a deadpan look on his face. “What? You’re making it so obvious.”

Osryn was having trouble reconciling all the information he was being given. That… that thing in front of him had given birth to his children? The thought sickened him, and for a brief, shameful moment, Osryn felt his love for them become tainted by it.

Celine emitted a strange clicking hiss before continuing her story in her more human-like tongue. “I never did find out who the traitors were… the Urtas who stole the egg sac away. Nor do I know how my offspring ended up in the care of such a bumbling old wizard. What matters is that you’re here now, my children! You are here now. Where you belong.”

“You know nothing of parenthood, you monster!” Osryn spat, unable to hold back his venom at being attacked right where it hurt him the most. He thrashed against the grips of the Urtas, but would not try to free himself. Not yet, though the temptation was greater and greater the more Celine spoke. “How dare you insist your claim to my children? You are a––”

“Just shut up!” Sebastian spat, and Osryn was stunned into silence. “You talk and you talk but you never listen. Did you hear a word she said? She’s our mother. She’s been searching for us. You weren’t even looking when you found us. You just got stuck with us.”

“Sebastian, I––”

“Save it, Osryn.” Sebastian spoke solemnly, turning away from him and looking up at Celine. “Not everything is about you.”

“You’re being awfully cruel, Sebastian,” Adelaide said, banging her staff on the linoleum floor. She gestured towards Celine. “Look in front of you! Don’t you see how it might alarm father to learn she’s our biological mother?”

Sebastian shrugged. “I care not how he feels. He never cares how I feel, after all.”

“You are not bound to anyone, children.” Celine spoke up again. “You are grown now––so mature and powerful. No one can make any decisions for you now, no?”

“No!” Sebastian agreed. “That’s what I’m trying to say! Dad always gets involved, and for what?”

“Dad only informs the decisions I make,” Adelaide said. “He doesn’t force us to do anything.”

Celine looked between the two of them, having hardly given Osryn so much as a glance since they had entered. “You know… you two could always join me. I’m trapped in this room, you see. Had I known before that Sebastian had placed a curse on this room to ensure I would never escape, I would have thought before I acted in rage and murdered him.”

She spoke of her heinous act so calmly it made Osryn shudder. He wanted to tell her she should rot in this room, but Adelaide was already taking it upon herself to fire back.

“I don’t associate with criminals,” Adelaide stated simply, tossing her hair over her shoulder and spinning her staff. “Sorry.”

Everyone, including Urta, who had been silent and kept his gaze averted, turned their eyes to Sebastian. He crossed his arms and looked Celine dead in the many eyes.

“I’m listening. Convince me.”

Osryn and Adelaide looked at Sebastian with shock and disgust. Shaking her head in disbelief, Adelaide said, “You’re listening? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Son, come on. Don’t––”


A new but familiar voice broke through the tension and a man came wandering into the room, letting the side door he’d entered through close behind him. He was twirling absently at his mustache and scratching his nose when he addressed Celine. “Dearest, I can’t seem to find my log book. Do you know where I may have left it?”

At that moment, he made eye contact with Osryn. He blinked and wiped his glasses as though his eyes were deceiving him. When he realized it truly was who he thought it was being held by the Urtas, a wide, devious grin spread across his face.

“Why, hello, brother. Long time no see.”

“Uncle Nygel?” Adelaide gasped, and Sebastian burst into laughter, which he quickly tried to stifle.

The Urtas who had been holding Osryn immediately let him go upon hearing the word ‘brother,’ slipping away into the crowd of Urtas who were lurking around the edges of the room. Osryn rubbed his arms where he’d been gripped, shuddering at the obvious power his brother also seemed to hold over these creatures.

“Nygel.” Osryn muttered. “I knew you had something to do with this. Never doubted it for a second.”

Nygel glanced apologetically at Celine, who clearly had not been expecting him, and held his hands out feebly towards her. “My love, I’m sorry. I forgot today was the, uh. The day with the children. The day of reckoning? Not sure what you called it, hon, but, I see you’ve met my brother!”

Celine’s eyes flickered back and forth between the brothers, who simply glared at each other for a few moments. She let out a dismayed growling buzz. “You’re an idiot, Nygel. Your log book is in the record room, and your brother was not supposed to know you were here.”

Nygel shrugged and chuckled awkwardly, clasping his hands behind his back. “Ah, well… Next time. Too late for take-backsies, I assume?”

His eyes flickered nervously between Celine and Nygel. It seemed Nygel was caught in a strange grey area between wanting to intimidate Osryn and wanting to please his… lover? Master? Who were they to each other?

Osryn recalled something Nygel had said the last time they had met:

“I am happily taken, unlike someone I know. You wouldn’t even know her. She’s far out of your league.

It all made Osryn’s brain feel like it had been electrocuted.

“So, this is where you’ve been all this time,” Osryn said drily. “I can’t say I’m surprised to see you as some monster’s lackey. Why would I have ever expected more out of you?”

“I’ll have you know that I am not just ‘some monster’s lackey’...” Nygel insisted, crossing his arms. “I’m the most beautiful creature in the world’s… lover. And, shall we say, financial benefactor.”

“So you pay her to have sex with you?” Sebastian asked bluntly. There was a small smile on his lips, even though the attention had been diverted away from him. It was too fun to watch his long lost uncle make a fool out of himself. Nygel blushed.

“W- Well, not exactly, I––”

“Silence, you fool!” Celine cut him off, pressing one of her many palms to her forehead. “Nygel is more loyal to me than even the Urtas. It is with his monetary assistance that I am even able to maintain this place as well as I do…”

“Enough about my bumbling uncle,” Sebastian said, having lowered his voice as deep as it could go. Coming out of the mouth of a teenager it was a little awkward, but he was trying his best to seem intimidating. “Talk to me, Celine. Tell me about this plan of yours.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Celine’s rumbling voice somehow also sounded like a whisper. “Look at me. See what I have become. See the loyal army behind me. First, I will escape this wretched place forever… and then, society will dare not reject me. Men would perish before they crossed me. That is the world I see.”

“So, world domination.” Adelaide scoffed. “Lofty goals for someone so fat they can’t even move.”

Celine’s dark compound eyes blinked. “You think I cannot move?”

Like a writhing mass of zombies emerging from the earth, Celine and all her attached Urtas began slowly advancing upon Adelaide. She gasped and readied her staff, but Celine stopped before actually getting close enough to actually attack.

“I may be slow,” Celine said, “but I am powerful.”

“How do you get out?” Sebastian wanted to know the logistics of this grand plan of hers.

Celine pursed her lips. “Well, I haven’t actually figured that out… I’ve analyzed the curse and it seems as though it’s a little bit complicated. It requires a key, as well as a number of other factors.”

“A key, huh...?” Sebastian said softly, then pulled his wand out of his pocket. “Perhaps this would do it?”

“Sebastian! What in the world do you think you’re doing?” Adelaide attempted to snatch the wand away from her brother, but he was too quick, and he held it in the air out of her reach.

“I’m doing what I want,” Sebastian hissed, pushing her away and pointing the wand at her. Adelaide’s eyes widened, but she was still skeptical that he would actually attack her. “Look, I’ve been thinking for a long time, and I don’t think I’m a part of your little family.”

“What are you talking about, Sebastian?” Osryn opened his arms. “I’m your father!”

“Admit it, you’ve never known what to do with me.” Sebastian’s posture, in return, was closed off. “I’m just a lazy waste of space and you’d have been better off just raising Adelaide on her own.”

“When have I ever said anything like that?” Osryn asked incredulously. “I’ve only wanted what’s best for you both since the day you came to me!”

“Since when are you the authority on what’s best for me?” Sebastian’s cool and collected demeanor shattered and for once, he dared to show genuine emotion. His voice cracked. “My whole life you’ve pushed me and pushed me. You’re pushing me off the edge here!” Adelaide put her two left hands on her brother’s shoulder, but he slapped them away, turning towards her. “You know it’s true. He never cared about me.”

“I– I don’t think he ever didn’t care, I just think… he didn’t know.”

“Could I have been more clear?” Sebastian laughed, flipping his hair out of his face. “I don’t know how I could have made it more clear that I wasn’t like him. I wasn’t going to be his perfect little son.”

Osryn’s heart was open and bleeding, but he persisted. “Son, I… I swear I had no idea you felt this strongly. I– I always thought that I could––”

“You thought, you think, whatever!” Sebastian interrupted. “I don’t believe you thought about anyone but yourself. Tell me, Osryn, when you ask yourself why you’re such a bad father like I know you do at night, do you feel bad for me or for yourself?”

From the sidelines where he’d been watching, Nygel whistled. “Yikes, brother. Looks like your son has a point.”

“You shut up!” Osryn yelled.

“Celine, I’ll join your little nest here,” Sebastian said with confidence. “Nobody can stop me.”

“Sebastian!” Adelaide cried, running in front of him and shaking him by the shoulders. “You’re absolutely mad! You’d really abandon me like that?!”

“I don’t want to abandon you,” Sebastian’s cool, quiet tone had returned. “I want you to join me. Don’t you see, sister? This is our chance to be something. Be remembered.”

“I don’t want to be remembered as someone like her!” Adelaide stood her ground. “I’d die first.”

Sebastian shrugged. “I’m not like you… I never have been. Sorry for thinking you might understand...”

“You’re full of it, you know that?” Adelaide thrust her hands down at her sides as fists. “All my life I’ve cared about you, defended you, listened to your whining. I know you and father don’t always get along, but you’d really throw our family away for this? For her?

“All I’ve ever wanted was for someone to tell me I had something to give!” Sebastian directed his cruel gaze at Osryn, who was genuinely at a loss for words. It felt as though his son had slipped completely from his grip. All those years of trying, years of doubting himself, years of wondering if he was doing wrong by his children. It was true. He had done wrong by Sebastian, because they were standing at this crossroads right now. Just as quickly as he had made eye contact, Sebastian averted it. Those six blue eyes stared directly into Celines, almost as though they spoke a language only Insectera could understand.

For all Osryn knew, they did.

“You, my child, are more powerful than you even know…” Celine cooed, and that lit a fire in those pale blue eyes of his. “You shall guide all of us in our journey to independence. You are our link to the outside world.”

“Sebastian!” Adelaide couldn’t stop tears from rolling down her cheeks. “I’m not just going to let you walk away!”

“Then come with me. Together we are outcasts, and together we will rise above it all. Don’t you want to be able to live your life freely the way you are? To be yourself without fear of death?”

“Not if the cost is other lives!” Adelaide insisted. “You’re my twin, Sebastian… we were born together. I can’t bear to have you leave me like this. Stay. Please.”

Sebastian shook his head, unable to look her in the eyes. He held back the beginnings of tears. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“You bastard!” Adelaide lunged at her brother, who jumped out of the way. “I’ll kill you before I let you leave me!”

Osryn grabbed her by the shoulders before she could leap at Sebastian again. “Wait, Laidie. Let him go. It’s pointless to try and get through to him.”

“We can’t leave him like this!” Adelaide was strong enough to push Osryn away, but her upper hands instead rose up and met his on her shoulders. She was shaking. “We can’t leave him like this…”

Osryn squeezed her tighter, unable to do anything but watch as his son walked up to Celine and stood before her. “We’re not leaving him forever… just for now.”

“What if she kills him?” Adelaide whimpered.

“She needs him,” Osryn said quietly in her ear. “And we just need time.”

“Well, it looks as if your brother has made the correct decision…” Celine addressed Adelaide. “Unfortunately, I can’t just settle for one of you. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you too, girl.”

“Over my dead body.” Osryn readied his plasma energy and stood by Adelaide, who had managed to wipe away her tears and face Celine with a determined scowl.

“That’s the idea!” Celine laughed, then swept her hand over the crowd of Urtas. “Take the girl! The man can die.”

Immediately, Osryn and Adelaide knew they would not be able to stand their ground. The sheer number of Urtas was absolutely overwhelming, and even at their skill level they would not be able to take down that level of power. Adelaide spun her staff in circles, knocking as many opponents as she could to the ground, where Osryn attempted to finish them off with plasma. He shot a desperate glance at Sebastian, who only watched with six glassy eyes. Osryn couldn’t afford to lose focus on the battle, but the look in those eyes cut into Osryn’s core.

How could Osryn judge anyone as a monster, when he himself had created one?

“We can’t take them, father!” Adelaide gasped. “We must find a method of escape!”

“The door behind us locked,” Osryn muttered. “I heard it click.”

“Quick! Over here!”

Osryn’s head spun around and an Urta––no, the Urta––was beckoning them towards the exit. The door had been locked, but Urta had iris scanned it open. Osryn and Adelaide had no time to question Urta’s motives in helping them. They simply bolted for the open door and Urta followed, his atoms shifting back into their human arrangement as he ran.

An unintelligible order was given by Celine and the onslaught of enemy Urtas ceased. The three escapees raced up the staircase and Urta slammed the door, locking it, even though surely it didn’t matter if he did so.

“She’s not going to send them after us.” Urta gasped for breath, leaning against the door. “You’ve already put enough of them down. She’s going to want time to build up more.”

“Build up more?!”

“She still has access to the cloning device, as well as a few of the other machines she has the Urtas maintain. How else do you think they just keep on coming?”

“We need to get out of here,” Adelaide mumbled and Osryn almost didn’t hear her, until she more loudly finished, “or else I’ll kill him myself.”

She stormed out of Haelstron’s ‘abandoned’ residence and immediately let out a soul-ripping scream from deep within her chest, throwing her staff across the gravel driveway and into the weeds. Osryn emerged from the doorway just in time to see her collapse to her knees and hold her head in her hands, sobbing. Osryn’s heart hung heavy, and the reality of what had happened was only just beginning to set in. He’d lost his son, and it was his fault. His daughter was crying without him in the driveway of his dead hero, who he had learned was a sociopathic mad scientist.

Osryn approached Adelaide carefully, crouching beside her but giving her her space. “It’s not your fault, you know. He’d made his mind up long before we got here.”

“I could have been there for him…” Adelaide sobbed. “I could have stopped him.”

“Neither of us could have stopped anything… Adelaide. He’s not gone forever. I know it. I won’t let him be.”

“You’re the reason he even left in the first place!” Adelaide hissed, then dropped her harsh tone and broke into heaving sobs again. “I– I’m sorry… I just… I wish I had known he was feeling that way. I wish I had known.”

“Yeah…” Osryn swallowed and exhaled. “Me too.”

“Thank you, father… for everything.”

Osryn furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”

“You stopped me, when I was angry at him. I don’t know what could have happened if you hadn’t…” Adelaide stared blankly into space. “I don’t know what I could have done if you hadn’t told me to stop.”

Osryn pulled her in and wrapped his arm around her. “Dear, you mustn’t think that way. You didn’t do anything. That is what matters.”

Adelaide needed some more time to process alone, so Osryn retreated and found Urta standing by the stairs, looking anxiously in through the open front door.

“Worried they’re following us?” Osryn asked. Urta nodded and scratched his neck.

“Yeah… but I think we’re clear. Thought maybe she would send out a few to push us off the property, but she probably doesn’t even know we’re still here.”

“You made a bold decision, there,” Osryn noted, realizing in that moment the gravity of Urta’s decision to help them. “Didn’t you just betray your master?”

Urta raised his eyebrows and pressed his lips together. He clicked his tongue and looked at the ground. “Yep. If she ever gets her hands on me again, it’s over. It’s the end of the line for ol’ Urta…”

Osryn blinked. “Why would you do it? You brought us all the way here. Why would you change your mind and help us escape?”

Urta looked at Osryn, and for the first time, Osryn saw a young man behind those eyes, not just a weary traveler. Urta was a naïve, unsure of his place in the world, and if what he said about having no memories is true, he must not be all that old intellectually. The human body he inhabited might make him look like he was in his mid-thirties, but to Osryn, he may as well be a child. “I’ve experienced more of the world with you than I ever had locked in that dismal laboratory… I like this human form. It makes me feel… comfortable. I never feel comfortable in my exoskeleton. I’m comfortable like this. Out here. With you guys.”

Osryn had half a mind to tear into him about how much he’d lied and how right his suspicions had been, but Urta just seemed so low and weary. The man had risked his life to save Osryn and Adelaide–– whether or not he’d had bad intentions going in, it could not be disputed that he was on their side now.

“I’m sorry…” Osryn finally decided on the amicable route. He’d had enough fighting for one day. “I was right to have distrusted you, but I was wrong to believe you were against us personally. I underestimated the power of the pull of a cult.”

Urta tilted his head slightly. “Cult?”

Osryn inhaled through his teeth and slapped Urta on the shoulder a couple times. “Let’s save that conversation for another time.”

Since they’d gotten to Solelio, the blazing sun had fallen in the sky and now cast a bright orange glow through the palm trees that lined the driveway. Adelaide eventually managed to get off the ground and without many more words between them, they set off into the sunset. The group which had been four was merely three now, and Sebastian’s absence was felt by all. Everyone was weary and the sky was dark by the time they made it to the edge of town. Urta suggested they camp there, on the outskirts of the vast expanses of farmland, and everyone was too tired to disagree.

No fire burned that balmy evening as they made their camp. The three disheartened travelers simply lay on their backs in the grass for what felt like hours, staring at the starry night sky. Sleep did not come easily, but like death comes eventually for all of us, it came for all of them that night.


Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.

© 2022 Rychard Collins