Element of the Abstract: Chapter Two
A cold wind swept across the town square, casting leaves into the air where they danced and swirled around the feet of the rushing citizens. Osryn pulled his cloak around him and shivered, dodging out of the way of a particularly irate individual. It was an early February morning, in the height of Lunora’s “rush hour,” during which the majority of the downtown residents made their way on foot from their homes to their jobs, usually in factories. Blustery mornings like these, topped off with cloudy skies and occasional showers, were a staple of the city’s ambience. Dull, gray buildings rose up against a pale white sky, and Osryn passed by them quickly. Mostly, Lunora consisted of up-and-coming factories and low-income housing. Some people knew Osryn and gave him a smile as he passed them. Others flashed him the characteristic glare of a tired, worn-down working person. Not everyone approved of the comparatively lavish life of a wizard.
After a few blocks, Osryn arrived at the front of a slightly abnormal looking building. It wasn’t gray like most of the other buildings. Colorful murals and drawings of plants and flowers covered the walls, and above the door, a hand-lettered sign saying “Macron Antiques and Curiosities.” Osryn smiled as he always did at the sight of the murals–– after all, he knew the artist. He entered the building and a bell jingled as he did so.
The store inside was warm and inviting, the smell of rose incense wafting across the room. Tables and desks were covered in numerous antiques and artifacts, not unlike the general look of Osryn’s own home. Old clocks and vintage signs adorned the walls and dozens of old-fashioned lighting fixtures hung from the ceiling, all with price tags. A woman with shoulder-length red hair whirled around from behind a glass jewelry counter.
“Hey there, welcome!” She said, then she locked eyes with Osryn. He smiled slightly, raising a hand in greeting. The woman widened her eyes and blinked. “Osryn?”
“My, my, it’s been a while since I last heard from you…” Daniela crossed her arms and dribbled her long painted fingernails on her elbow. “I almost thought you were dead.”
“Yeah, well,” Osryn mumbled, “it’s been a crazy couple months.”
“You look…” Daniela squinted, trying to find a kind way to put it, “...overwhelmed.”
“You won’t even believe what’s been happening.”
Daniela raised an eyebrow and leaned over her counter. “Oh? Well, it better be good. I don’t appreciate you going ghost on me, Seld. It’s boring without you around.”
Osryn scoffed, rolling his eyes. How could he explain when even he could not get a grasp on his situation? “Trust me. It’s… something.”
“Well, spit it out. I haven’t got all day.”
Osryn interlocked his fingers and twirled his thumbs around themselves, avoiding eye-contact and instead staring into the face of a clock on the wall. “I… have children.”
Daniela blinked. “Excuse you?”
“Children. Two of them. I have them.”
“I’ll be damned, Osryn!” Daniela shook her head in disbelief. “It’s only been a few months since we spoke! I didn’t even know you had a girlfriend, never mind two children!”Shifting awkwardly, Osryn leaned against one of the nearby tables and finally made eye contact with Daniela. There was a teasing curiosity in her eyes, and Osryn smiled. He had met Daniela when he was a first-year in university, and the two had dated rather seriously for quite some time. The sight of her freckled face always brought warmth to his soul. “Ahh, no, no… No girlfriend, I’m afraid.”
“Hmmm, I see…” Daniela narrowed her eyes. “Are you going to be any less cryptic, or must I dig it all out of you?”
“Listen,” Osryn said, “I don’t even know… where to begin. It would be much easier if you simply came with me to see them. Can you do that?”
Daniela sighed, glancing at one of the many clocks and around at the store. She bit her lip. “Oh, I don’t know, Osryn. Hector’s been doing more deliveries to keep up with the bills as it is. I’m not sure I can afford to close up shop…”
“I knew you would say that,” Osryn admitted, “but Daniela, please. You do not understand… what I’m dealing with, here. I need you, now more than ever. I don’t want to leave the kids alone for long, so come quickly.”
“Alone?” Daniela shook her head incredulously and pressed her hands to the glass counter. “You left two children… alone?”
Osryn blinked. “Should I… not do that?”
“Oh my sun and moon, Osryn, no you should not!” She pressed her palm to her forehead and sighed deeply, then ran it through her hair. “Okay, fine. I’ll come with you, but you’d better not pull something like this again. I have to make a living, you know. I’ve got kids too!”
“I know, I know.”
The two made their way out of the store and back into the October morning air to begin their somewhat lengthy walk. Osryn’s house was on the edge of town, and no one in Lunora had a vehicle. Despite the bustling industry of the small city, not one of them, even Osryn, having inherited all Cornellius had, could afford such luxury. Industry workers were viewed by the elite as necessary, but not as valuable as artists or craftsmen–– if they knew this, they probably wouldn’t keep working, but where would they go? No one had a car, and it was a three day walk to the nearest other city.
After about an hour, Daniela and Osryn arrived at his home on the outskirts. It was rather brisk, so they both shivered as they shut the front door behind them and removed their shoes. Wordlessly, Osryn guided Daniela upstairs to the room he had designated as a nursery. Piles and piles of knick-knacks and trinkets had been shoved unceremoniously to the floor to make room for the two cradles that rested on a table. Daniela caught one look at the children and gasped, covering her mouth with her hands.
“I told you,” Osryn said. “They’re indescribable.”
“They… they’re…” Daniela realized he was right.
“...awesome.” Osryn muttered. “They are absolutely awesome.”
“My stars, Osryn, they cannot be more than a few months old… how in the world have you been caring for them?”
“They were on my doorstep in a storm, sixteen weeks ago. It’s a miracle they didn’t die in the cold before I found them… I managed to get a hold of some food and supplies, but it wasn’t easy without arousing suspicion.”
“Sixteen weeks? Osryn, why in the name of the moon did you wait so long to tell me?”
“Daniela, I haven’t told anyone. I wanted so desperately to tell you sooner, but I feared you wouldn’t believe me. So, I resolved to bring you here and show you as soon as I had the chance. How else could I possibly explain?”
“So,” Daniela was still reeling, but she reached out tenderly to touch the boy’s forehead, where pale blond hairs were already beginning to sprout, “nobody knows about this but me?”
“Not a soul,” Osryn confirmed. “Do you see why I can’t just hire a nanny?”
Daniela chuckled and brushed her hair out of her face, turning towards him in anticipation. “Well, Osryn, what are their names?”
Osryn paused. “...names?”
Again, Daniela pressed her hand to her forehead. “It’s been months, and you haven’t even named them?”
Osryn tugged at the collar of his shirt and scratched a mole on his face. “I haven’t known what to call them… they’re so unique and beautiful. I just don’t know how to do them justice.”
“Well… have you thought of any names that you like?” Daniela asked. “You don’t need to think too much about it. I mean, Greer was somewhat of a panic name when I found out I was pregnant… but for our second, we both really liked the name Anna.”
Osryn took a moment to think about this. There were a few notable figures he could think to name a child after. His mentor, of course, Cornellius Renald… but just, no. Then there was early abstract physicist Anne Brenali, but that felt a little too much like copying Daniela. Then, he spotted an obsidian wand in the pile of artifacts and he knew.
Daniela’s interest was piqued. “Sebastian. I like it… any reason why?”
Picking up the wand, Osryn twisted it around in his hands. It had always felt a little too intimidating for him to attempt to handle. Although he had learned a thing or two about fighting from his rough-around-the-edges mentor, Osryn had little reason to use that knowledge. Still, he knew the power contained within the wand was vast, and he did not think himself powerful enough to wield it.
“The wand of Sebastian C. Haelstron,” Osryn explained. “He was a recluse from Solelio who was found dead in his home after decades of social isolation. Alongside his body was a treasure trove of knowledge; hundreds of studies in numerous fields–– linguistics, engineering, even entomology. You name it, he’s done it.”
“Biology?” Daniela responded to the dare.
Osryn smirked, having known she would guess that. That’s what they had both been studying when he met her. “Certainly. The man was a jack of all trades, but what I’ve always valued were his contributions to abstract theory. Hell, he revolutionized the field when he raised the theory that the scientific and the arcane not only could coexist, but must coexist. Without his help in popularizing abstract ideas, and inspiring those who came after him, I never would have developed such a passion for the abstract as I have. His work went down in history, yet not a single soul knows what kind of person he actually was.”
“Hmm…” Daniela gazed at the child and nodded her approval. “It’s interesting. A name shrouded in triumph, but also mystery.”
“Yes!” Osryn was pleased that he had managed to come to a decision, only to be paralyzed again. “But, what about the girl?”
For a moment, Daniela looked at her. “Well, Hector and I thought about having a third child, and if she’d been a girl, we would have named her Adelaide.”
“Adelaide,” Osryn repeated, wrinkling his forehead. “I like it.”
“Sebastian and Adelaide. You’re a father, Osryn.”
“Oh, stars…” Osryn rubbed his head and inhaled sharply. “I’m not sure I’m ready, Daniela. The last four months have been an absolute nightmare. I’ve hardly gotten any sleep since October....”
Daniela only raised her eyebrows. Osryn sighed.
“Alright, yes, I know you’ve been through it twice, but… I didn’t ask for this, Daniela. Besides, you had Hector… I’m not sure I can do this alone.”
With a pitying smile, Daniela put her hand on Osryn’s shoulder. Osryn reached up and placed his own on top of hers, squeezing it softly. “I believe in you, Osryn,” she assured him. “You’re the smartest, most resourceful person I know.”
Osryn pulled away, keeping her hand in his and grabbing her other one. “You really mean that?”
Daniela flushed and looked away, giving his hands a tiny squeeze. “Of course, Osryn. You know I love you.”
His nerves steeled themselves and he kept his gaze directed at her until she sheepishly looked towards him again. When she did, she saw the tired face of a new father, but also the solemn, caring eyes of the man she’d always loved. Those eyes nearly captivated her when he opened his mouth and said, “Raise them with me, Daniela. Please. I need your help.”
Her hands fell away from his and she scratched her shoulder, shaking her head with a sigh. “Oh, Osryn… why? Why would you say that?”
“You know I’ve never forgotten the way it was when we were together,” Osryn told her. “Walking away from you was the most foolish decision I ever made, you know. I need you, Daniela. These children need a mother.”
Daniela scoffed, casting a piercing glare at Osryn, who recoiled slightly. “Unbelievable! You made your bed in college, Osryn Seld, and now you must lie in it. You did walk away from me. I was ready to marry you, Osryn… but I married someone else. My children need a mother… your children will simply have to deal with you.”
Osryn fell silent. He knew it was wrong for him to have asked, and in retrospect, knew there was no way she would have accepted his offer. Hector and Daniela were happy, and in love, and for the last decade, she had been an amazing friend to Osryn despite all their history. They both knew the ship of their romance had long sailed. It crushed him to see her so disappointed in him.
“Dee… I’m sorry…” he said. “I know you’re happy. I like Hector. I wouldn’t want to hurt him like that. You’re right. I need to do this alone.”
Daniela softened slightly, offering him a smile. She rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue, still clearly shaken, but willing to lighten up for both their sakes. “You’re silly, Osryn… obviously I’ll be around. I don’t have any siblings, and I’ve always wanted a niece and nephew.”
Osryn grinned. “Auntie Daniela.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop it…” The two friends gazed upon the strange children again, taking in their magnificence. “They really are beautiful, aren’t they?”
Mesmerized, Osryn nodded absently. “I really didn’t expect to grow so fond of them… but it’s true now. I’ve named them, so...”
“You’re a father.”
“I’m a father.”
Daniela smiled and punched him lightly in the shoulder. “What would you ever do without me?”
He rubbed it, furrowing his brow as though considering. “I’m not sure. Possibly light myself on fire?”
“Hm, frankly, I’d bet on turning yourself into a toad.”
“Do not mock me. You know full well that I have yet to perfect the art of autotransmogrification.”
The two laughed and said their goodbyes. Osryn thought maybe she’d forgotten his blunder, but when he went to hug her, he saw that her arms were crossed defensively over her chest. Heavy-hearted, he refrained. Daniela headed out into the cold to return to her shop. After Osryn shut the door behind her, he collapsed in a slump against it, head in his hands. How could he have been so thoughtless and cruel, to put his closest friend in such an awkward situation? She was right, after all–– he had missed his chance. Instead of marrying her, he dropped out of college and dedicated himself to the art of sorcery and the crippling loneliness that came along with it. He knew things about the forces that made their world tick, sure, but what did he know of fatherhood? What did Osryn Seld know of what it took to have a family?
It had been a year since Cornellius had passed away, leaving Osryn alone in the home he had long ago been invited into. He had always asked Cornellius if he regretted not settling down, finding a wife and having kids. Cornellius had always assured him he didn’t regret a single moment of his life, and that Osryn would always be like a son to him. It occurred to Osryn in that moment that not a single man or woman before him had raised a true child in this home. This house had gone master to apprentice, then his apprentice, then hers, and so on for centuries.
Again, he found himself wandering listlessly to the mead rack. Two children slept upstairs, and every instinct told him he shouldn’t do it, shouldn’t numb his senses when there were beings who relied on him. That was why he’d never gotten a dog, after all. Yet, the bottle was uncorked, and a glass poured, then subsequently finished. Osryn missed Cornellius. He had always been a positive influence on him.
Unlike Osryn, who was rather antisocial and extremely aloof when confronted, Cornellius had been a social butterfly, gaining the respect and friendship of many of Lunora’s residents. In his early years, he and a crew of like-minded samaritans had been involved in the dissipation of several violent gangs in Lunora. When he took the more passive role as the village wizard as he aged, it felt like a well-earned retirement, and he continued to do good by the community through healing and public education. Even now, he is spoken of often in town and dearly missed.
Osryn wondered if anyone would miss him that way. What had he done worth remembering, after all? Was it too late for him to do anything to change it? He had no history of good deeds. No philanthropy. Nothing more than a few published studies no one was likely ever to read. The love of his life was happily married. His parents had disowned him long ago. Even his estranged little brother was making a fortune across the nation.
Out of the corner of his eye, Osryn saw movement on the den floor. Several crawling insects were making their way around the room. Osryn scowled. He had never had much of a bug problem, but in the last few months, he swore they had made this place their dormitory. Frustrated with his social blunder and lost in his existential angst, Osryn stood from the couch where he’d been drinking and crushed one of the cockroaches beneath his shoe, twisting it harshly into the floor. When he lifted his foot, there was nothing but a stain of blood and viscera.
From upstairs came the sound of infants crying. With a sigh, Osryn finished the mead in his glass and headed up to check on them. Behind him, the obliterated remains of the cockroach on the floor congealed, its exoskeleton re-formed, and the little insignificant insect came back to life and walked away.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins