Element of the Abstract: Chapter Eight
Perhaps it had been a mistake to knock on her door.
“Adelaide? Can I come in?”
There was no answer, and Osryn hung around the outside of his children’s room, hoping the door would open. The years had seemed to fly since the day he’d found them, almost like he was time-skipping year-to-year through the beginning of a young-adult novel. If he’d thought they were bad at fifteen, he had not been prepared for how difficult it would be now that they were almost seventeen. Over time, Adelaide had shifted more and more into her own bubble, withdrawing even from Sebastian, and electing to work alone on her various passion projects without telling Osryn much about what they were. This was, admittedly, taking its toll on the man. His children were a few of his only friends, after all. He knocked again.
“Laidie? Dear, can I please come in?”
No answer. With a sigh, Osryn gripped the doorknob and hesitated for a moment before opening it. Adelaide was sitting at a desk to the left side of their room and groaned immediately, covering the papers she had out on the desk and shooting him a glare. “Dad! Leave me alone! Why do you never listen?”
“You didn’t say no,” Osryn attempted to defend himself, glancing around their room. It wasn’t often that he came in here, no. Back when it was their nursery, this room had been rather sparse, but as soon as the children had their own agency with the place, it had become a rather homey little enclave. There was a loft to the upper right side of the room with small brass footholds along the wall allowing one to get up there, and as soon as Sebastian was able to climb, he’d wanted to sleep up there, so his bed had been nestled into the nook above everything else. As a result, Adelaide had taken over most of the ground floor. Her bed was unmade, the floor had clothes scattered around it, and the windowsill she used as a vanity had powders and lipsticks scattered all around it. A layman may have been off-put by the crawling of an occasional insect every few moments, but this was the Seld household. Bugs were part of the little family.
The cat, Flea, was prowling around on the messy floor, searching for insects to terrorize. Having gotten bored of that, she hopped up onto Adelaide’s desk and took a seat carelessly on a pile of writing implements and sticky notes. She settled happily and began to purr. Osryn sighed. Perhaps Flea was the only friend Adelaide wanted or needed nowadays.
“I was trying to ignore you!” Adelaide grumbled, using one hand to pet Flea, still hiding her work with the others. “Now, go away!”
“I get that you need your space, dear, and I try to give it to you, but…” Osryn kept looking past her defensive glare to where her four arms were effectively shielding him from being able to see what she was working on. “I’m curious about your interests. I just wish you would talk to me about them, even just a little…”
“It’s none of your business!” Adelaide snapped. “Just leave! Please! You never leave me alone!”
Osryn bit his lip. He knew this wasn’t true. In fact, he made an active effort every day to give her as much space as she needed. However, today his heart hung heavy and he really just wanted to connect with a daughter who seemed to need him less and less every day. Osryn needed Sebastian and Adelaide to feel okay, if only so he could feel like he was doing something, anything at all, right with his life. They were the best things that had ever happened to him.
Adelaide’s posture was stiff, aside from the one arm that softly stroked Flea, and Osryn wondered what he’d done wrong to make her get so defensive. Had he been worrying so much about Sebastian that he’d forgotten to worry about her? Just because she was succeeding in their training sessions didn’t mean she was content overall. This thought process began intruding its way into his brain, and before a few moments had passed, the stress and anxiety had already spread its branches into every corner of his mind.
“Alright…” Osryn conceded, raising his hands in surrender and backing toward the door. He glanced around the room again, knowing it would be hypocritical of him to tell her to clean up, but he did wish he was able to be a better influence in that way. A cluttered environment led to a cluttered mind, and his were both full to the brim. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone.”
“Shut the door on your way out.”
Osryn did so, immediately letting out a deep sigh. He scratched at the mole under his left eye. It protruded from his skin, so he was often prone to picking at it, even though he knew it would hurt if he tried to pick it off. He picked at his skin, Adelaide picked at her nails. It was amazing just how much his children had inherited from him–– if it was nature vs. nurture, he felt especially inclined to believe that nurture was what mattered. After all, no one knew what their “nature” even entailed. He wondered how much of their personalities were because of his influence, and how much of it was simply how they had been born.
These philosophical questions could wait, however, as he wasn’t done trying to get some well-deserved one-on-one time with his children. Sebastian tended to prefer to work in the study, which was rather large and had a variety of tables. It could accommodate all three of them, if they so desired, and probably more if need be.
If any of them bothered to clear off more than the required space to do what they were doing, perhaps the place would be a sight to behold. There were empty cabinets built into every wall, there were chests of drawers, closets, shelves. So many ways Osryn could store his collection of mystical items, yet they remained strewn about him, everywhere he walked in his own home.
The door to the study was open and Osryn sidled up to it, knocking on the sideboard. “Sebastian? What are you up to?”
Sebastian stared vacantly at the scroll in front of him for a few more moments. Osryn was beginning to doubt he had heard him at all when Sebastian turned his head towards his dad and said, “Nothing.”
Osryn blinked. Was it truly so hard for them to tell him just a little bit about whatever it was they were doing? He wasn’t dumb. It was clear they were doing something. Osryn looked at his workspace. “Oh, is that the Cerulean Scroll? How’s that going?”
“Um. Good.” Sebastian fidgeted in his seat, stretching his long legs in front of him and crossing his ankles. He clasped his hands together as well, and his flickering eyes gave off a nervous energy. Osryn thought about calling him out for sounding extremely suspicious, but he wasn’t about to start another fight with one of his children. Instead of prying, Osryn realized he could talk about something perhaps more important with him.
“Can I ask you a question, Sebastian?”
“Your sister… is she alright?”
Sebastian narrowed his eyes slightly. “Uh, yeah. I mean she hides in our room and works on that grand plan of hers, but when she’s around, she seems fine to me.”
“Grand plan?” Osryn was fed up with being in the dark. “See, this is the first I’m hearing of this! She doesn’t tell me anything.”
“You don’t know what she’s working on?” Sebastian raised his eyebrows and scoffed a little. “I figured you would know, since you’re so close and all.”
Osryn didn’t have the energy to unpack that. Instead, he kept digging for information. “Could you tell me, maybe? Please… I know she doesn’t want me to know but… should I be worried?”
Sebastian shrugged. “I suppose I can tell you, as long as you don’t let on that you know. She’s making a big deal of it, I think. She’s trying to figure out who our parents are. Researching entomologists, famous sorcerers; anyone with a connection to insects and magic, really.”
Osryn’s breath hitched. “What? Why?”
“How should I know?” Sebastian shook his head and shoulders vigorously. “Maybe because we know we were adopted. Maybe because we’re Insectera. Maybe because giant insects come here and attack us every week.”
They were all good points, but Osryn’s frazzled brain was seeping with self-loathing and disappointment. Maybe it was because Osryn wasn’t a good enough father.
“How long has she been doing that?”
“A while. I don’t think she’s gotten very far. Turns out, most people don’t care for bugs.”
For a moment, Osryn mulled over this, allowing the negative thoughts to seep through his mind. Then, he realized he was sabotaging himself again and shook the thoughts out of his mind. He looked at the Cerulean Scroll. “Hey, are you enjoying translating that? I haven’t seen you take it out much lately… it’s been quite a while, actually.”
“Yeah…” Sebastian mumbled. “About that.”
“What?” Osryn didn’t mean to come off as gruff as he did.
“Well… I kinda finished it.”
Osryn’s eyes glimmered and he slammed his hand on the table. “What? Oh, Sebastian that’s amazing! Why didn’t you tell me? When did this happen? Just now?”
Eyes wide, Sebastian gritted his teeth. He hesitated before speaking, but finally got the words out. “Um… about a year ago.”
The silence that fell was palpable. Osryn narrowed his eyes and his voice dropped to a low whisper. “What did you say?”
“I… I finished it a year ago. I didn’t want to tell you.”
“Why!” Osryn gasped. “I can’t believe it! I’ve stared at that scroll for decades and you neglect to tell me you’ve uncovered its mysteries for a year?”
“Well, that’s the thing…” Sebastian muttered, “I don’t think it’s too mysterious.”
Osryn bit his lip. “Read it to me.”
“Read it to me!”
Sebastian sighed and began to speak.
I have always wanted a collection such as this.
A legacy to leave behind after I’ve turned to carbon.
Creations etched in time that only my hands could have carved.
My name will go down in history, my face will appear in schoolbooks.
I will die a pioneer. I will die a part of history.
Although I never cared to know another, everyone alive will know me.
All I will know is the cold embrace of the earth as I decompose
and ants dig tunnels through the soil that once was me.
Osryn stared at the ground, mind swirling. Legacy… Memory... These were ideas that often plagued him. Though he was dazed and shaken, he managed to hear Sebastain when he said, “It really just reads like a bad poem to me. And… you really cared about it. I didn’t want to tell you that it didn’t mean anything important…”
“It does, though, don’t you see?” Osryn murmured, running his eyes up and down the scroll despite his inability to understand the words. “You heard the author! They’re speaking of the ants! Unique creations! A legacy! Whoever wrote this is obviously talking about you and your sister! This person may be your, shall we say, ‘parent.’”
Sebastian bit his tongue. “I guess. I just… I think it might be reading into it a little too deep. It’s so vague, dad, there’s no way we can confirm that.”
Osryn was shaking his head, grabbing a glass pen and some ink from somewhere in the mess and placing them next to Sebastian. “That doesn’t matter. Transcribe it. I think this means something important. I think this could be a prophecy about your family. Our family.”
“Our family?” Sebastian inhaled deeply, templing his fingers. Neither of them wanted to get into some sort of fight right now. “Okay, whatever. I’ll transcribe it.”
Osryn thought about calling Adelaide in to tell her the good news but he realized two things. First, she likely would not budge from her spot in her room, and he was not about to cross her again today. Second, she’s so close with Sebastian it’s likely she knew a year ago that the scroll was translated, and that, according to Sebastian, it was useless.
It was not useless to Osryn. Whoever had written the scroll knew exactly the sort of dreams Osryn had, the hope to leave behind something memorable to society after his body turns to dust. That said, there was a strange hollowness within him now. What if Sebastian was right and he was just grasping at straws? That didn’t matter. Even with the mystery of the scroll’s content solved, Osryn was hell-bent on discovering the truth behind it. Whether it was prophetic somehow about the life and legacy of his children, or if it truly was just a piece of random scrap, it meant something to Osryn. It resonated with him. Someday, he hoped he would understand why he’d spent so much time pondering the scroll. For now, he was merely confused.
Loud knocking on the door downstairs snapped Osryn’s attention away from his thoughts. Ever since Nygel had shown up uninvited, the three had all been on higher alert when it came to visitors. Osryn looked at Sebastian, who shook his head rapidly and shrugged.
“Don’t know. You get it.”
Osryn rolled his eyes and went to get the door, looking through the glass panel to see… Greer. Osryn squinted, overwhelmed by the bright light of the cloudy sky reflecting off of Greer’s stark white hair, and opened the door.
“Greer, what a pleasure,” Osryn greeted them. It wasn’t often that Greer came over here unexpectedly without any other member of their family.
“Hi Uncle Osryn!” Greer smiled brightly, bounding into the foyer with a small package in hand. They were rather short for seventeen and had developed a peculiar style of dress and mannerism. Greer had realized as a preteen that they weren’t a boy, so since Anna was a skilled seamstress, she made them a wardrobe of essentially whatever they wanted. In Greer’s case, what they wanted was the brightest colors imaginable and a rather unique mismatch of male and female clothing. Today’s reds, yellows, and pinks made up a sunny outfit, befitting of someone with such a sunny demeanor.
Osryn would be the last person to judge the kid’s fashion, as he believed anyone should be able to wear whatever they pleased, but he was admittedly always somewhat unnerved by how bright and colorful Greer always dressed, compared to the muted blacks, blues and purples he and his family tended towards.
“What brings you here, kid?” Osryn asked, smiling cordially though he felt queasy and mentally drained. “It’s not often you come here alone.”
“I brought a gift!” Greer lifted their twine-wrapped package and grinned. “For Sebastian. He’s home, right?”
Osryn nodded, raising an eyebrow. He called out to his son, who stumbled carelessly down the stairs and spotted Greer immediately. A smile came over Sebastian’s face, which made Osryn smile too. His children always seemed so melancholy… he was glad they had friends.
“Oh, hey,” Sebastian greeted Greer, walking up to them with his hands in his pockets. “What’s up?”
Greer held out the package and coaxed it into Sebastian’s hands, pressing their lips together in a catlike smile. “I made you something! I know it’s not your birthday yet, but I was too excited to wait.”
Sebastian looked curiously at the package and shook it, smiling as he tore open the wrapping to reveal a small wooden box. Within it was a hand-carved brooch of dark-stained maplewood, depicting a flour beetle surrounded by flowers.
“I thought you’d like the wordplay… Flour, flower…” Greer muttered nervously, toying with a lock of their bobbed hair. “I wasn’t sure if you’d wear it, but I just thought it would look so cute on you.”
“You actually remembered that?” Sebastian chuckled, face flushing brightly as he traced over the textures of the brooch with his finger. “Greer, this is beautiful. How did you make this?”
“Of course I remembered,” Greer giggled. “We totally trashed your kitchen! My dad helped me make it–– he’s really good at woodworking. Don’t worry, I’ll have Adelaide’s gift done soon!”
“Hold on just a moment,” Osryn narrowed his eyes and glanced between the two. “What’s this about trashing my kitchen?”
Sebastian burst out laughing as Greer waved dismissively. “Oh, it’s nothing, Uncle Osryn. It’s just this one time Sebastian tried to help me bake a cake, and we found a whole nest of flour beetles in the pantry.”
“By found,” Sebastian interrupted coyly, “they mean they disturbed the nest and they all flew out of the pantry, getting flour absolutely everywhere until I got them under control.”
“How was I supposed to know beetles could fly!” Greer whined, crossing their arms and pouting.
“Because I’ve told you, and you’ve seen them do it.” Sebastian prodded them in the belly. Greer squealed and clutched at their abdomen in defense.
“Stoooop Sebastian!” Greer protested, but they were both still beaming. Osryn watched on, fascinated with the dynamic that had unfolded between his and Daniela’s kids. He had never realized they were so friendly… They were baking cakes together now? Upon thinking about it, Osryn realized he did remember a cake, he’d just assumed Adelaide had made it. Well, he was glad for it. Adelaide and Anna were good friends, but they certainly were not this close.
“Anyway, Greer, I don’t have anything else I need to do today. Wanna go for a walk in the woods?”
Greer’s eyes lit up. “Sure, Sebastian! Is that okay, Uncle Osryn?”
Osryn nodded. “Of course. Just be cautious as always. Make sure no one sees you.”
One day, Adelaide and Sebastian had conspired to sneak out in the early morning while Osryn was sleeping. One of them tripped on some clutter in the hall and woke him, so he’d heard the door shut. He followed them into the woods and they admitted they had been coming out there for quite some time, but that they were being careful. Osryn pitied them, isolated as they were, and allowed it.
Sebastian rolled his eyes–– always outnumbering Osryn three to one. “You know damn well no one ever goes into those woods.”
“I know. I just worry about you.”
The children said farewell and disappeared out the door. Osryn let out a sigh. First, Adelaide didn’t want him to know about her origins, then Sebastian about the scroll. What else weren’t his children telling him? Was it his fault for making them feel like they couldn’t tell him these things? That was the last thing Osryn wanted. Above all, he wanted his children to trust him and come to him with anything, but he couldn’t help but wonder what good he could do for them even if they did. After all, he had no clue how to help himself.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins