Element of the Abstract: Chapter Seventeen
Farmland. Vast stretches of farmland. Neither Osryn nor the children had ever seen such abundance of agriculture. At the height of harvest season, the fields were alive with activity. Tiny silhouettes of people hand-picking crops were scattered throughout the landscape, and the sound of tractors whirring in the distance had replaced the buzz of insects. Osryn stared at the silhouettes of tall buildings in the distance beyond–– Solelio, the shimmering city. Indeed, the city skyline did appear to shimmer with the ripples of heat that came off the ground.
Urta had been notably quiet since they’d left the mysterious pond. What had he seen? Osryn wondered what kind of past a person like him had endured. Evidently, it was too much for him to handle. He’d been nervously ticcing, the side of his jaw shifting every so often when he spoke. Osryn had been onto his suspicious nature from the beginning, but from the way Adelaide was giving him the eye, Osryn suspected she was beginning to realize something was off about him as well. Soon enough, they made it to the city limits, where the twins reluctantly put up their disguises.
“I don’t even get to see the city up close...” Sebastian whined. “It’s not fair. Why can’t I just take my chances? If people try to cross me, they’ll regret it.”
“You won’t be making anyone regret anything,” Osryn grumbled. “Do you even hear yourself talk?”
“It’s so hot under here!” Adelaide complained, flailing her arms around under the cloak which concealed them. “It’s like a hundred degrees.”
“You’ll both be fine, just be patient.”
“Come, come…” Urta beckoned them forward, shifting his jaw again as he did so. “We’re so close to my master’s base. Just… bear with me. Don’t dawdle. I’ll show you the way.”
His tone was harsh and somewhat detached from emotion. Adelaide scoffed under her breath and turned towards Osryn, both of them falling far enough behind as they walked to converse in quiet whispers without Urta hearing.
“Father, I think you’re right.” Adelaide told him, and Osryn’s heart swelled. He loved being right. “Urta’s up to something. He’s been acting strange since the pond.”
“Agreed, Adelaide. We must remain vigilant. Stay sharp.”
“He’s hiding something.”
Sebastian, who had hung back when he caught wind of their whisperings, reminded them: “Everyone is hiding something. Aren’t we?”
That shut them both up. They crossed through the threshold of the city, an entrance marked by a giant arch of granitic gneiss. Immediately, Osryn’s senses were bombarded. They had stepped into the middle of a bustling marketplace; people were rushing around everywhere, some on foot, others on motorized bikes. The scents of various foodstuffs all combined into one savory-sweet sensation that left Osryn’s mouth watering–– they never had eaten lunch, after all. The architecture was tall and rounded, with buildings showing abnormal bumps and bulges in their structure that served to both catch the eye and soften the feel of the entire city. The ground itself shimmered with particles of mica, which formed in abundance on this side of the mountain. People smiled at Osryn as he walked past. One man spoke to Osryn in a foreign tongue––Soleli, most likely––but re-stated his request in Lunoran as soon as he took one look at Osryn’s completely blank expression.
“Dear sir, would you care for a taste of my fresh persimmon wine?”
“Oh, well,” Osryn was already holding a glass before he could even accept. “Don’t mind if I do.”
He sipped the wine and nodded contentedly. He was finally starting to get over his hangover and admittedly, he needed the drink after such a high-stress day of traveling. The merchant who had handed it to him, a short and stout man with unkempt dark hair, smiled eagerly. “You like it, dear sir?”
“Indeed, indeed…” Osryn swished the wine over his tongue like a sommelier. “Wonderful notes.”
“The bottle shall be yours for the low low price of––”
Before he could finish, Osryn was whisked away from the booth by Urta. Osryn was unprepared for the harsh motion and rolled his shoulder irritably as soon as Urta let go of his arm.
“My stars, Urta. Why on earth did you have to be so forceful?”
“Sorry…” Urta mumbled, glancing off in some wayward direction. “It’s just… We’re so close, and it’s very easy to get distracted by the city life.”
It was, and Adelaide and Sebastian were proving it as Adelaide described every sight to her blinded brother in great detail, allowing him to feel textures and taste some of the free samples vendors were offering. Everyone around him offered him a smile and it made Osryn somewhat uncomfortable; compared to the standoffish nature of the average Lunoran, this kind of socialization with strangers was absolutely jarring. Well, he was in a foreign land. In fact, most people didn’t even speak his language.
Urta corralled the Selds eventually and let out an exasperated sigh once the three of them were all in one place. “Okay, now that you’re all ready and listening to me… We’re heading down this road. The house is on the opposite side of town. Please try not to get distracted while we make our way there.”
“A little anxious to get there, are we?” Osryn judged.
“Just doing my job…” Urta sighed, and for whatever reason, Osryn almost pitied him in that moment. Adelaide rolled her eyes, but they all followed Urta through the city. Sebastian had drawn the short stick, as he needed to remain by Adelaide’s side to make his way through the city without bumping into anything, and he could not even admire the lovely architecture and the people that made their way around. Osryn spotted a stray cat or two as well. Adelaide noticed one of them and smiled fondly.
“I miss Flea…” She murmured. “I hope she’s okay.”
“I’m sure Daniela got our message and is taking great care of her.”
Eventually they ended up walking down a rather long and winding road, bordered on both sides by thick tropical plants and without any buildings. At the end of it they came across a secluded mansion, painted dark black and grey. It was a stark contrast to the pale pinks, golds, and beiges of Solelio so far–– almost as if someone had copied a building from Lunora and pasted it into Solelio.
“This is it. The home of Haelstron. Come in.” Urta stepped up the front stairs and put his hand on the doorknob.
Before he could open it, Sebastian stopped in his tracks. “Haelstron? As in Sebastian Haelstron?”
Urta sighed and turned around, crossing his arms. “Yes, what of it?”
“That’s his namesake…” Osryn said softly, still unsure how to process what he was hearing. “Wh- Why are we here? Why have you taken us to Haelstron’s abandoned home?”
“Oh, it’s far from abandoned…” Urta said. “Just come in.”
Osryn narrowed his eyes. It became more obvious than ever now that Urta was hiding something, and they would find out sooner rather than later whether they had made a huge mistake by coming here. Still, Osryn was one of the late Haelstron’s biggest fans–– even now, he and Sebastian could not pass up the opportunity to explore the home he’d once lived in.
Sebastian was already standing in the foyer when Osryn entered, having removed his bandana and started gazing around at the large den. It was full of dark wood furniture and strewn with artifacts. In fact, it was just about as messy as Osryn’s house usually was, but some furniture was overturned and everything was coated in a thick coat of dust.
“So… this is where they found him?” Sebastian asked.
Osryn nodded. “Upstairs. Just dead. Leaving an entire legacy behind him.”
“So you’re familiar with him, huh?” Urta asked, but he wasn’t looking at anyone. He simply stared into the glass of a china cabinet full of expensive obsidian dishware and picked at his fingernails. “Interesting…”
Osryn followed Sebastian into the library, Adelaide by his side. The room was rather large, with gothic-style interior design and shelves too tall for any of them to reach. Sebastian traced his finger along the spines of shelf after shelf. Adelaide lifted a glass dip pen and a bottle of mysterious shimmering liquid off the desk in the middle of the room, admiring the craftsmanship of the pen and shifting the liquid around.
“Dad, look!” Sebastian pulled a book off the shelf and blew the dust off, shielding his many eyes as it floated into the air. He flipped through the worn and dog-eared pages. “Constructed Language! He wrote notes in the margins! I didn’t know Haelstron was into linguistics like me…”
Osryn had known that, but had never actually made the connection before. “Huh… You’re right. That is odd.”
“I wonder why his wand chose me in the first place...” Sebastian mused, pulling it out of his pocket to run his hand along its smooth surface. “I mean, sure, it could just be the name… but why does it feel like more?”
Urta was suddenly at the door to the library. “Wait, what did you say?”
Sebastian narrowed his eyes. “What did you hear?”
Urta’s grey eyes were trained on the obsidian wand in Sebastian’s hands. “Did you say yours is the wand of Haelstron?”
Sebastian crossed his arms, still holding it. “Yeah. Is this a problem for you?”
“No, no…” Urta shook his head and wiped his forehead. “I just… it surprised me, is all. To think, this whole time…”
“Okay, Urta.” Adelaide put down the ink bottle and pointed the end of the glass pen in Urta’s direction. “Enough lying. You’ve been acting strange since the pool with the fireflies. Did something happen? You’d best tell us, lest we come to our own conclusions.”
“It’s not my job, nor within my ability, to tell you all you need to know.” Urta’s face was solemn and he turned back into the hallway. Adelaide gave her family a disbelieving look before rushing out of the room.
“Get back here, you!” She called after him, but it wasn’t until she nearly collided with him as she rounded the corner to the kitchen that she realized he wasn’t even running from her. Urta placed his hand on the doorknob and looked between the Selds as Osryn and Sebastian came to stand behind Adelaide. Osryn put his hands on her shoulders. Sebastian’s arms were crossed, but his tense shoulders betrayed his frayed nerves.
“It’s too late to turn back now, my friends…” Urta said softly, unlocking the door with a small key and swinging it open. Ahead was a descending concrete staircase with shoddily-built stone walls on either side. “All will be revealed. My master awaits.”
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins