Element of the Abstract: Chapter Five
Another weary night, and a familiar cerulean scroll had made its way onto Osryn Seld’s desk. As per his custom, it had been many years since he had pulled it out and attempted to make sense of its foreign script. Shuffling and thumps could be heard from across the house, as both children were awake and active. Their thirteenth birthday had passed a few months earlier and they were both making leaps and bounds in their magical training, which they did alongside school almost every day. It’s a good thing he decided to start training them when he did, too, as the periodic attacks by strange mutant insects had continued since that first fateful day. Adelaide always seemed to be wanting to learn more and try harder, but Sebastian had the tendency to get bored or space out. That’s not to say they weren’t both shaping up to be wonderful young sorcerors–– they were simply going through something that everyone went through: puberty. Even “Insectera", as the children had taken to calling themselves and any other insect-esque being that their powers applied to, were at the mercy of hormonal change.
“Sebastian, stop it!” Osryn heard Adelaide whining faintly from down the hall. “I’m braiding my hair! Gross, your feet are disgusting!”
Osryn chuckled. Teenagers. He adjusted his glasses and turned his attention back to the scroll, but it was long past midnight again, and he was feeling himself begin to drift off. Like him, the children had turned into quite the night owls themselves. In fact, they often mocked him for dozing off ‘early’ like an old man… at only 4:30 A.M. That said, he wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet. Though his body was tired, his mind remained wired, so he continued referencing the scroll’s characters and grammatical structure to that of the existing language, Soleli. They were similar at a glance, but so different grammatically that Osryn was finding it impossible to make any headway. He groaned and shut the book, removing his glasses and rubbing his eye. He squinted at the lenses and used his shirt to wipe away a few smudges.
He put them back on, looked at the book, up at nothing in particular, and sighed. The existential apathy had hit him all at once. As per usual by the time three o’clock rolled around, he felt he needed a drink. Before he could rise to get one, however, Sebastian wandered past, presumably on his way to the kitchen himself.
Sebastian stopped at the threshold of the door and looked in. The boy standing there was still remarkable to Osryn, and had only become more so with age. He had agency now, and a mind brighter than Osryn knew how to handle. In response to being hailed, Sebastian only raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“Can you come in here for a minute, son?”
Sebastian did so, making his way rather quickly and efficiently past the mess to the table where Osryn sat; the children had become rather familiar with this study throughout their education. He moved a stack of books on a nearby stool to the table, taking a seat on it and resting his feet on the lower bar. His long legs seemed to jut out at acute angles, and his tall torso only accentuated just how disjointed he looked. All Osryn could think of was one word: arthropod: ‘jointed leg.’
“Have I ever shown you this scroll before?” Osryn asked, tapping it with a dry fountain pen he’d been chewing on.
Sebastian narrowed his eyes, but only four out of the six would read the words. It had taken them a while to realize, but as Sebastian got older, his bottom two eyes got cloudier and cloudier. It became clear that he had never been able to see out of them at all. Osryn had raised the theory that if he had not been born with six eyes, perhaps he would have been blind. Daniela said she’d suspected as much all along. However, his remaining two pairs saw extremely well, and his peripheral vision was beyond amazing.
“I don’t think so,” Sebastian responded upon taking a glance. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” Osryn admitted. “I’ve been on-and-off attempting to translate it over the years, but I’m not making much progress.”
Sebastian examined the scroll for a few more moments. Osryn tapped his foot, eventually, scratching his newly stubbly chin, Sebastian made a comment. “That’s a really strange triphthong. I haven’t seen it in any local language.”
Osryn blinked. “What did you just say?”
“That vowel combination, there,” Sebastian pointed to the spot.. “You see? ‘Y’, ‘U’, ‘O’. Three vowels in a row. Triphthong. Hell if I know how to pronounce it.”
Osryn only blinked, realizing for the first time in decades that the ‘Y’ in this language most likely represented the vowel sound 'ee', and that in combination with ‘U’ and ‘O’ it was indeed a triphthong. Clearly, he was worse at linguistics than he had thought; his own name had a 'Y' that was a vowel, after all. “How do you know these things?”
“You have a book downstairs,” Sebastian explained, averting his eyes towards some wayward pile of junk. “Linguistics of Thought by uh, I think his name’s Chimpsky or something.”
“You read Linguistics of Thought? My stars, son, I couldn’t even get past the first chapter, it was so far beyond me.”
Sebastian shrugged. “I thought it was interesting. I like language.”
From the hallway, Adelaide poked her head in the door, long brown hair dangling around her face in twin braids. “Sebastian, what are you doing? Where are the candied walnuts? I’m starving.”
“Dad’s showing me some weird scroll,” Sebastian said. “Apparently he was too bad at linguistics to translate it for fifty years.”
Adelaide snickered and Osryn felt the need to defend his position. “Excuse me, boy! How old do you think I am?”
Sebastian shrugged, smirking knowingly, and Adelaide walked up to his side, where she put her head on his shoulder. As they grew, he had shot up and was more than a head taller than her.
“You really understand this stuff, don’t you?” Osryn asked, still incredulous.
“I mean yeah. It’s pretty cool, I think.”
“You should translate the scroll.”
Though he’d been enjoying the attention, Sebastian looked like he wanted to disappear into the shadows at the prospect of taking on that burden. He leaned over the table with both arms and tilted his head onto his hand. “Aw, man, I really would love to, but… I’m busy.”
Adelaide couldn’t stifle a laugh and she lifted her head from Sebastian’s shoulder, only to punch him with both right arms. “That was the most pathetic excuse I’ve ever heard.”
He groaned, rubbing his probably-bruised rib cage. “Why do I have to do it?”
“Because clearly you’re some super genius,” Adelaide mocked.
“I don’t have to do it just because you can’t,” Sebastian retorted, and Adelaide’s smile flickered.
“Sebastian, you’re going to translate this scroll,” Osryn told him, snapping his fingers to make him look at him. “Hey, don’t you roll all those damn eyes at me.”
“Why are you always so pushy!” Sebastian grumbled, crossing his arms, and Adelaide nodded along supportively. “Shouldn’t we be most concerned with learning magic and how to fight? Insect monsters from who knows where have been storming our house on the regular for years now.”
Adelaide crossed her arms and added, “Yeah! I mean, we’ve had no less than three Insectera encounters a month since we were ten.”
Osryn sighed. It was another uprising in the ranks, and as per usual, he was outnumbered.
“I just want what’s best for you both, don’t you understand? You’re unique, and you live a more dangerous life than I or any other human. Being strong is important, but so is being smart. Have both, and you’ll be successful. Who knows–– maybe someday you’ll go down in history.”
“What does that have to do with translating your stupid scroll?” Adelaide asked.
“Don’t talk back to me,” Osryn grumbled, unintentionally raising his voice, and she went quiet, scratching at her many fingernails. Sebastian took her hand so she would stop and they both pretended to listen as their father spoke; he had a tendency to go on these rambling lectures.
“It’s not about me. It’s about your future, okay? You don’t always push yourself hard enough, Sebastian. I worry you’ll grow up to be lazy if you don’t learn to work hard now.” Sebastian turned his head away. Osryn cringed when he realized he sounded exactly like his father and attempted to re-route his argument. “Listen, I just want you to do things you’re passionate about instead of lazing around all day… I don’t want you to end up alone, with nothing you’ve worked for. I don’t want you to end up... sad.”
“What, like you?” Sebastian asked, deadpan. Osryn only looked back at him and shook his head a little. Unconvinced, Sebastian twisted at the front fringe of his chin-length hair, which he kept swept to one side. A few months earlier he had insisted he dye his bangs black, in stark contrast to his natural pale blond, and Osryn had allowed it. They were teenagers now, after all. Sebastian pushed the dark hair aside and shrugged. “Fine… whatever. I’ll do it. You’re probably right that it’d be fun, but your methods of convincing could use some work.”
Osryn sighed, wanting that drink more than ever. He didn’t let his posture slump though, and his expression remained stern. Nothing good ever came out of him acting all depressed in front of them–– that sort of behavior was exactly what he was hoping to avoid teaching them. He didn’t know what to say, so he merely said, “Call it tough love, but it’s love.”
“Whatever you say, dad.” Sebastian stood from the stool. “I guess I’ll look at it tomorrow.”
Osryn nodded and smiled, hoping his son would understand he didn’t mean harm. “Thank you, son. Besides, you never know: maybe this knowledge will come in handy someday.”
“Sure, dad. Whatever.”
Huffing, Sebastian pushed past Adelaide and exited the study, stomping down the hallway until he was in the room they shared. Osryn rubbed his forehead and exhaled, now ten times as exhausted as he was before. He looked to Adelaide, who was staring at him, but her arms were withdrawn close to her and she appeared very small.
“You know I’m not trying to be mean…” He said, and she hesitated a moment before nodding.
“I know, dad. It’s just…” Adelaide pored over her words, fiddling with the tie on her black peasant nightshirt, complete with four sleeves. Anna Macron was a decent young seamstress, and she had been volunteering to make custom clothing for Adelaide as practice to hone her skill. Adelaide opened her mouth and closed it.
“Spit it out, girl.”
“You make us sad, sometimes…”
Osryn had no idea how to respond to that.
“It’s okay, though!” Adelaide tried to reassure him, gesturing at the scroll and forcing a somewhat crooked smile. “He’s gonna be so happy once he starts translating it. He said it himself, right? He loves that stuff.”
Nodding, Osryn managed to return her weary smile. He took her two upper hands and squeezed them, but she pulled him in with her bottom arms, hugging him instead. Osryn chuckled and hugged her back, and all six arms joined together for a moment of peace and serenity. Osryn loved these moments. They made life feel like it was truly worth living. Like all good moments, though, this one had to end, and Adelaide pulled away.
“I’m going to go check on him,” she said. “Are you gonna be okay, dad?”
Osryn nodded. “Yeah… I think I’m going to go downstairs for a drink and then head to bed.”
Adelaide nodded. “Okay, good night.”
She left the room, he wandered downstairs, and the house was silent now, no thumping or voices from the children’s room. Osryn nursed his mead, unable to shake the shame over the way his children reacted to what he felt was a simple suggestion. Was he pushing them too hard? He only wanted them to have a better life than he did. Was that too much to ask? Osryn Seld had a chance now. He finally had a chance to have a family in a way that he felt was meaningful. Why, then, did it feel like he was always screwing it up?
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins