Element of the Abstract: Chapter Four
Time passed. Years, in fact. It was August, almost a decade later, when Osryn truly realized the gravity of the burden life had placed on him and his children. The day itself was unassumingly bright, the sunniest day Lunora had seen in years–– definitely the brightest in the children’s memory.
Nonetheless, the sky was still streaked with cirrus clouds, which periodically blocked out the sun. By evening, the moisture would have fully descended, and the characteristic fog would cast itself over Mistlorn Valley. That didn’t matter. For now, it was bright, and Osryn was happy. Sitting in his own front yard on this beautiful day, in the company of his closest friends and family, Osryn was happy.
He would have to savor this serene moment, as they did not come for him often.
“You’re in a particularly good mood, it seems,” Daniela teased Osryn and jabbed him in the arm, pulling him out of his absent stupor. “You’ve been staring into space in silence for a while now… and you’re smiling?”
“Careful buddy,” Daniela’s husband, Hector, interjected, “you’ll go blind if you stare into the sun for too long.”
Hector flashed Osryn an earnest grin. Osryn chuckled. “I’ll try to avoid it.”
“I thought all Lunorans went blind if the sun even came out,” Hector said, that amicable smile melting into a smirk. “Are you sure it’s okay for you to be sunbathing? Won’t you die or something?”
“No,” Daniela responded, “that’s vampires, dear.”
Hector Macron was from Solelio, the warm sunny town on the northern side of Mount Astella, known for its lengthy growing season and a communal society based around arts and culture. Its coastal location, compared to inland Lunora, made Solelio an attractive hub for traders and merchants of the valley, Hector among them. It was through this lifestyle that he found himself frequently in Lunora, where he’d met and fallen in love with Daniela, and now resided with her. He, unlike Osryn, had not only traveled deeper into the mainland than Lunora, but across the Sea of Rata to the western lands Nygel spoke so highly of. That, after all, was where a lot of the more valuable goods came from. While there was undeniably a twinge of jealousy felt by Osryn for the man who’d settled down with the love of his life, he couldn’t deny the fact that Hector was a good and honest man. It did amuse him to a degree that Hector was apparently his physical opposite in every way: short but muscular, with pure white hair against dark brown skin. They both wore their long hair back in a ponytail, though. Perhaps Daniela did have a type.
“Anna! Don’t pull your brother’s hair!”
Daniela briefly scolded her daughter, the eight year-old Anna, who was currently attempting to scalp ten year-old Greer. Adelaide and Sebastian, who were now ten as well, stood aside, snickering as their friends got in trouble. Soon enough the dispute was resolved, and the children continued their game of tag. Osryn’s heart swelled as he looked at them all. After much consideration, Osryn had decided he couldn’t bear to let his children grow up in isolation. So, he’d allowed Daniela to tell Hector about the children’s existence, and together, they’d decided to allow Greer and Anna to play with them.
Greer had sworn to secrecy, and if anything he seemed to enjoy having an important secret to keep. Anna, despite her age, didn't talk at all. She, unlike Greer, was quite introverted, so although she communicated in her own way, she was not much of a leak risk.
Daniela had suggested that if Adelaide hid her arms under her clothing and Sebastian wore a bandana over his top eyes, the two would be able to enter public places, but Osryn was still nervous about the idea of it–– after all, one mishap could reveal the truth. It was too risky to try and send them to school, so for the last several years, the twins had been learning from their father using the home-school curriculum that Osryn and the Macrons had devised together. All in all, things were finally starting to feel somewhat normal for Osryn. His children were thriving, he was happier than he could remember, and he hadn’t heard from his immediate family in years. Life was good.
“They’re all growing up, huh?” Daniela mused, sipping her glass of Osryn’s newest batch of mead. It had turned out rather delicious this time–– he’d had much practice over the years. “I never expected to raise my kids alongside yours, Osryn. I was really starting to have my doubts you’d ever become a father.”
Osryn rolled his eyes. “Tch. Well, I’ve surprised you yet again.” The adults focused their attention again on the children. Anna was much quicker than Adelaide, and was continuously managing to make her “it.” Adelaide grew frustrated with this when she was tagged by the edge of the yard where a rock wall designated the property line. All eyes widened as she, in a fit of childlike temper, grabbed a boulder that couldn’t have been less than a hundred pounds and tossed it across the yard. No one was in her line of fire, but Daniela and Hector looked at Osryn with expressions of sheer disbelief. Osryn, who had seen this phenomenon before, simply sighed.
“Adelaide!” He scolded, and she flashed a glare in his direction, knowing already that she had broken the rules. “No throwing rocks, remember? It makes Sebastian jealous.”
Daniela raised an eyebrow. Osryn sighed, relenting, and added, “Also, it’s dangerous. Please stop.”
Sebastian whined, hiding his upper eyes behind his shaggy blond fringe. It was true that he had tried in the past to lift the rocks she handled with ease, to no avail. It was clear to Osryn that whatever powers the two did have, they were different and specific to each of them.
Adelaide huffed and the game of tag continued. Anna and Greer seemed somewhat off-put, but they were children, and just as quickly returned to their game. Daniela and Hector, however, were not as easily distracted.
“What in the name of the sun was that?” Daniela gasped, downing the rest of her glass. “That rock must have been twice her body weight!”
“She’s got quite the little temper, that one.” Hector laughed, sipping his mead far more quaintly than his wife had. “How’s that working out for you, Ozzy?”
“Are you not shocked by this?” Daniela asked, waving her hands around. “His ten year-old daughter just tossed a giant boulder.”
Hector shrugged. “I’ve seen weirder in this world… haven’t you?”
“I’ve tried to tell you before, Daniela, dozens of times. You never listened to me,” Osryn said, somewhat bitterly. “Bugs are attracted to them. Later on, it became clear that they both can communicate, telepathically I believe, with insects. Didn’t I tell you about the cookie jar?
Daniela rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Osryn, it’s only been, what, eight years? Excuse me for forgetting.”
Osryn shrugged. “Anyway, Adelaide is… strong. I think it’s all connected to their physical abnormalities.”
Nodding, like this was obvious and he totally understood, Hector said, “Oh, yeah! Like an ant. She can probably lift… well, anything.”
Hector had always wanted to go to college for entomology, but since trading paid the bills better than staring at bugs, he had settled for reading up the topic on his own as well as engaging in some amateur beekeeping. Daniela, despising bugs as she did, did not often bring it up, so Osryn had completely forgotten about that aspect of his history until now.
“Yeah,” Osryn raised his eyebrows, somehow never having made the connection himself, “like an ant.”
Daniela shuddered and glanced nervously at the kids, where Sebastian was jumping to tag Anna, who barely managed to dodge his attack. “So it’s true. They’re… bugs.”
“Well,” Osryn tilted his head side to side, scratching his goatee. “Bug-adjacent. Yes. I’d say that’s confirmed.”
“That’s a shame…” Daniela murmured, gazing into her empty glass. “I like them, but… what other dark and creepy secrets may lie within them?”
“I know, I know…” Osryn’s voice had taken on a dismal tone. This was a thought train he rode far too often for his liking, but it was true that he had no idea what his own children were capable of. What sort of creepy-crawly magic made them tick, and if they were insects, were they harmless... or would they bite? “I worry, Daniela. I do. But what am I supposed to do? My children are… insects. Whatever happens, at this point, will simply happen.”
“I think you’re being a little cruel, guys,” Hector insisted, a pronounced frown highlighting the wear and wrinkles in his face. “First of all, they’re children. Second of all, not everything about insects is a bad thing. Insects are integral to ecosystems and, well, life as a whole. Plus, without the honey my bees make for you, Ozzy, you wouldn’t have any of your precious mead!”
Osryn managed a smile at Hector’s playful reassurance and Daniela squeezed her husband’s hand. At that moment, Greer suddenly broke down crying, kneeling over something on the ground. Anna knelt a few feet to his right, unsure how to help, and Sebastian, and Adelaide watched from a distance. Hector rushed over to him and put his arm around his shoulder, asking what’s wrong.
“I stepped on a bee!” Greer cried, wiping tears out of his eyes and off his pale stringy hair. Hector’s hair had not turned white with age, but had in fact been that way since he was born, and he had passed the trait onto his son. Osryn had always wondered what sort of abstract gene could cause a heritable condition like that. It seemed that the father and son had more in common than just their hair color, as Hector frowned as he saw the broken bumblebee in his son’s hand.
“Oh, no…” He cooed softly, stroking Greer’s hair. “It’s okay, son. It’s okay.”
Osryn could tell that although Hector was trying to act as emotional support for his distraught son, he was having trouble keeping it together himself. Daniela sighed and put her empty glass down, raising her eyes at Osryn before she stood up and walked over to her panicked family. She put her arms around both of them and said, “The death of one bee is not the collapse of a colony, guys. Come on, you know that!”
“I killed it!” Greer sobbed. “I killed your flying friend!” Hector was shaking his head furiously, seemingly on the verge of tears himself. There was a distinct femininity to his appearance and mannerisms, and it contrasted well against Daniela’s masculine tendencies. One more reason to prove that in the end, Osryn wasn’t right for her. Still, Osryn couldn’t help but find it weird that even a ten year-old boy was so emotional, never mind a grown man. It unsettled him deeply, yet almost made him jealous.
It was then that Sebastian separated from Adelaide and stepped quietly over to the family, where he knelt down beside Greer and looked at him. His eyes met Greer’s and in that moment, somehow they both felt calm. Sebastian held out his left hand and blinked. The Macrons had known Sebastian and Adelaide for so long that it didn’t even throw Greer off to look so closely into the six, piercing eyes of his young friend. He nodded and carefully dropped the bee into Sebastian’s hand. It was writhing and squirming, oozing blood and certainly dying. Sebastian closed his eyes, cupping the bee in his hands. Osryn rose from his chair and wandered closer, awestruck… was it truly as it seemed? Sebastian was channeling, for the first time, into the abstract.
After a few moments of silence, in which Anna grew a little impatient, Sebastian uncupped his hands. The bumblebee flew out and bumbled around, landing on Sebastian’s shoulder, then his head, then Greer’s, then flew away. Everyone exclaimed in wonder and excitement and Greer gave Sebastian a tight hug, startling him.
“You saved him, Sebastian!” Greer cried, tears dripping onto Sebastian’s shoulder. Unused to affection from anyone but his father, Sebastian tentatively patted Greer on the back a few times until he let go.
“Son, how long have you known you can do that?” Osryn asked. Sebastian shrugged.
“I dunno. A while. You step on bugs around the house. I re-form them. It makes me sad to see them die for no reason.”
Osryn blinked and looked to Adelaide. “Can you do that?”
Adelaide frowned and shook her head. “I tried… I don’t think so.”
“It’s only fair,” Greer said. “You can move rocks.”
“You’re both so talented, my children!” Osryn grinned and swept them both into his arms, where they groaned in embarrassment over his praise and affection. Anna snickered, and Greer was smiling now, but still wiping tears from his eyes. “I’m going to train you, you know. You’ll be skilled sorcerers someday, like I am. Just you wait and see!”
There was a rustling sound in the woods, and for a moment, no one paid it any mind. It wasn’t until Sebastian picked up on a strange clicking sound alongside the rustling of the undergrowth. He turned his wide gaze beyond the rock wall and his eyes widened.
“Guys… look over there.”
Everyone turned at once towards the woods and there, emerging from the outer brush of the forest was what looked like a giant stag beetle. After the day’s events, there was no doubt in anyone’s minds that Sebastian and Adelaide had a connection to insects, yet no one could have expected the creature that loomed before them. The monolithic segmented creature inched its legs forward slightly and pulsed its large mandibles. As it progressed, the Macron family steadily retreated towards the house, leaving Osryn and his children to face their reality.
“Children, go inside,” Osryn commanded Adelaide and Sebastian, but they shook their heads.
“No daddy,” Adelaide said, grabbing the boulder she’d thrown earlier. “I’m strong.”
Sebastian nodded, but inched back slightly. His eyes had not moved from the giant bug since he spotted it–– in fear, but also a hint of awe and admiration. It was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen in his young life.
The monstrous insect no longer appeared to be playing neutral, loudly chittering as it scuttled across the threshold between the woods and the boundary wall and fielded it with ease–– the wall was no more than a meter tall, and the beetle hardly needed to climb to get over it. Osryn summoned his go-to plasma magic and cupped the metaphysical orbs in his hands, feeling their power pulse through him and into them. The beetle made its first attack towards Osryn, lunging at him with its giant mandibles, but Osryn was able to dodge, shoving Adelaide out of the way as he did so, and cast a volley of plasma balls in the beetle’s direction. When they made contact with the bug’s exoskeleton, it began to sizzle and melt, but the bug was only slightly deterred. If anything, the pain had made it angrier, and it lunged towards Sebastian now, who screamed and jumped out of the way, narrowly avoiding being pierced through by one of the creatures’ antlers. Adelaide tossed a boulder at it, but it hit a particularly armored part of its exoskeleton and hardly made a dent.
Meanwhile, Osryn continued pelting the being with plasma bullets, drawing its attention away from his children and onto him. This resulted in a very irate beetle charging Osryn quicker than he could fully dodge and grazing him across the stomach with the point of its mandible. Gasping, Osryn collapsed to the ground, where instead of clutching to his wound, he held out both hands in front of him, summoning a small energy shield in front of him. The beetle was unable to perceive this in its rage, and charged directly into the fortified magic shield, breaking its left mandible and buzzing in distress. While it was distracted, a boulder came crashing down on the joint where its head met its body, snapping the head clean off. As the beetle collapsed, Adelaide stood behind it, eyes wide and breathing deeply and shakily. She dropped the boulder, now covered in dark insect blood, and fell to her knees, sobbing.
Sebastian rushed over to his father and held his hands to the cut on Osryn’s stomach. He channeled his healing energy into it, but huffed in frustration when nothing happened. Wincing, Osryn ruffled his son’s hair and shook his head. “Don’t bother, son. I’m not an insect… like you.”
“What was that thing?” Adelaide screamed between sobs, dark hair hanging in her face. “W- Was it coming for us? Did you get hurt because of us?”
“No, darling, you saved me!” Osryn assured her. “This little scratch is nothing, dear. If it weren’t for you, I’d be beetle food.”
This hardly helped, and the young girl continued crying over the creature’s corpse. Osryn attempted to rise so he could go comfort her, but although the cut was thin enough not to warrant stitches, his wound was somewhat deep. Sebastian was still trying to summon healing magic to cure him, but there was no success whatsoever. Frustrated, Sebastian threw his hands down to his sides and, though it was unable to course through Osryn to heal him, the magic energy he had been concentrating had to go somewhere, and it struck the ground through each of his hands in a small bolt of electricity. Adelaide caught a glimpse of this and examined her own four hands.
“I tried, dad, but I didn’t help at all…” Sebastian muttered, shaking his hair out of his face and staring at the corpse of the giant bug.
Osryn had taken matters into his own hands and was grimacing as he guided a thin wobbling string he had generated out of low-temperature plasma across his wound, cauterizing it. “Y- You’ll get there, son. Both of you… I’m going to teach you how to harness your magic.”
“Really?” Adelaide’s eyes gleamed and she clenched all her little hands into fists. “I want to be a wizard like you, daddy. I wanna learn magic like Sebby.”
“Magic flows within everything, my children.” Osryn told them, dissolving the plasma string into gas and managing to rise to his feet. He looked at the corpse. “You both hold power inside you. Never forget that.”
Hesitantly, the Macron family returned to the yard from where they were sheltering in the foyer. Hector had his arm around Anna’s shoulder, who was still trembling. Daniela was holding Greer by the hand, but he stared straight at the bug corpse unfazed, then at Sebastian.
“Man, where did you learn to fight like that?” Hector was aghast. “I mean, aren’t you an academic?”
“My late mentor was a little bit more than an academic back in his hayday… he showed me a thing or two.” Osryn hesitated for a moment. “...Also, I was in a fight club in college.”
It did not sound like a joke, and everyone knew that to be plausible. Hector looked to Daniela for confirmation, and she nodded once, like she knew and didn’t like to think about it.
“Sebby…” Greer said. “Are you gonna heal the big bug too?”
Sebastian stared at it, seemingly realizing that Greer was right, he probably could do that, but Osryn shook his head and shot down the notion. “No, no… Some things are better off dead.”
“You kids are full of surprises,” Daniela chuckled, but there was fear behind her expression. Unlike her fond husband, Daniela was deeply afraid of bugs. “My, my… I wouldn’t want to cross either of you.”
“That bug… deserved to die.” Sebastian was hypnotized by its monstrosity, even in death, and could not take his eyes off it for more than a few moments. “Where do you think it came from?”
Osryn did not know. “It… could have been from anywhere. There’s no guarantee that it had anything to do with the two of you.”
“Oh come on, Osryn…” Daniela scolded, crossing her arms. “Don’t talk to them like they’re stupid. They’re old enough to know the truth.”
Osryn sighed and looked at his kids sitting on the ground. Adelaide’s tears were only beginning to dry and Sebastian’s six-eyed stare kept flickering back to the corpse his sister had created. Nervously, he crouched down to their level, and addressed them both.
“I do not know where you came from, darlings, or what sort of power you might hold. It seems more than likely that the beetle knew you were here and was attracted to you like the normal-sized ones tend to be…
“Know this: I will love you forever, no matter what lurks out there or within you. You are my children, and I will train you to be strong. Adelaide, you’re so strong already! And Sebastian! You learned all by yourself how to harness the arcane!”
Adelaide crawled towards him and wrapped her arms around him, crying into his side as he patted her back. Osryn looked over towards Sebastian, beckoning him over with his free hand, and his son moved closer as well, allowing his father to hold him and bring the two children some modicum of comfort.
The corpse still lay before them, yet it was hard to even believe that anything abnormal had occurred. Perhaps, Osryn realized, this would be the new normal. He looked over his shoulder at Daniela, and she gave him a sad-looking smile. Osryn squeezed his children to him tightly; he had always been searching for a purpose.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins