Element of the Abstract: Chapter Six
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The sun was setting, and the Seld family was in full-swing practicing. Now fifteen, his children were more competent than ever with their magic. They were learning faster than he ever had, and would likely outpace him within a few years. Their mossy backyard was the perfect place to train, being level and soft. This particular day felt like any other, nothing special, but Osryn had been learning to live more in the moment, rather than dwelling all the time on the future. Sure, it didn’t stop him from falling prey to his negative mindset sometimes, but doing better sometimes was the first step towards being better all the time.
He was getting old; every year that passed only solidified the fears and doubts he had in his mind about whether or not he was doing the right thing with his life. His teenage children, however bratty and rude, helped him make sure that even as the clock kept ticking, he kept his sights on what was important: them, and their far wider future potential. How old had he been when they had come to him all those years ago? Thirty-five, he realized. He had just turned fifty in August. Oh, how time had flown.
“Alright,” Osryn stood from where he’d been sitting, on the rock wall that divided their back yard from their decrepit and long-neglected garden. “Break time over. Show me your stance.”
Adelaide and Sebastian had different stances, as they had come to specialize in different “elements'' that came more naturally to them. In addition to their Insecterous affinity, Sebastian had a knack for channeling electricity or lightning, and Adelaide had taken to hot steam, mist, and fog. Both were able to be used on clear days with some strain, but were better adapted to their rainy and foggy climate. On this particular day, the sky was covered in a thick sheet of clouds that had dropped a curtain of fog below them into the valley, where it swirled lightly around the lower parts of their yard.
Sebastian’s defensive stance was rather relaxed, with his knees bent slightly and legs not spread too far apart. In his left hand he held Haelstron’s obsidian wand, which he’d been learning to use to channel his magic into more precise and powerful forms. Were he to be attacked head-on, his best chance was certainly to dodge than to withstand any blow. With his enhanced peripheral, he would see anyone coming, even if they thought they’d surprise him. He was thin as ever and not very muscled, with legs longer than anyone Osryn knew–– because of it, he was quick as the wind.
Adelaide, on the other hand, was more physically capable than anything. Her broad shoulders and hips mixed with the uncanny strength of her arms made this fifteen year-old girl a force to be reckoned with in hand-to-hand combat. In fact, Osryn had given up sparring with her long ago, as he genuinely feared for his old bones, even when she held back. Her stance was wide-legged and her upper hands clutched a carved wooden staff, one she had only recently taken a liking to during their training.
Osryn claimed he had no idea where the staff came from, but in reality it had been given to him by Daniela… years after their breakup, as a peace offering when she came to deliver the news of her impending marriage. He hadn’t known exactly what to say to Adelaide the day she found it and started using it. He’d thought, that was a sad story for another day. For now she didn’t need to know. It had been ages, and he wasn’t sure when he would have the heart to tell her.
“Looking good, looking good…” Osryn murmured, examining both of their forms and nodding. “Alright, demonstrations. Who wants to go first?”
Sebastian looked at his sister expectantly and backed away, giving her space. She rolled her eyes and began improvising a routine of the moves she had been practicing. With a thin fog on the air, Adelaide’s magic was easier to work with, as she didn’t need to worry about synthesizing any steam. She let go of the staff and it hovered on the fog in front of her, being suspended gently in the air by each individual water molecule. Using her hands to guide it, she moved the staff back and forth, twirled it, and lunged it forward. To anyone unaware of her specific magical affinity, they might think she was simply telekinetic, but it was never quite as simple as that. Above all, there was one concept he knew he needed them to understand: the physical world and the magical world go hand in hand. To be a sorcerer, one must understand both the potential and the limits of the abstract.
When she was satisfied with her air-wand routine, she returned the staff to the grip of her upper arms and showed off some moves holding it normally. It was unfair, Osryn thought, to whoever would cross her, that alongside her skill with the blunt weapon she chose, she had two free hands to throw punches or wield separate weapons. Adelaide spun the staff through the vertical plane and shifted her stance 180 degrees, ending her demonstration by digging her staff’s end into the ground, where it sent up a puff of mossy spores. Osryn grimaced.
“What did I tell you about being disrespectful to your tools?”
Adelaide rolled her eyes. “What did I tell you about minding your own business?”
Osryn sighed. “Well, you’re doing pretty well. I think you need to work a little more on your isolation spins, when you’re using the mist. That can be a very effective move for taking down more than one flying opponent at once.”
“I know that already!” Adelaide said somewhat rudely, flipping her now-sweaty hair off of her neck. “Why do you think I’ve been practicing it?”
“I just think you should try––”
“I can figure it out on my own!” She interrupted, twirling the staff. “You don’t need to be looking over my shoulder all the time.”
“That wasn’t my intention, dear.” Osryn said, smiling and trying not to lose his cool. He knew that reacting harshly only made these situations worse… but it was hard. “I just thought you might benefit from some instruction. But, if you’d rather work it out on your own that’s fine.”
Adelaide shrugged and wandered over to the stone wall Osryn had been sitting on, plopping herself down on it in a rather odd fashion, one foot on the wall and the other on the ground. She wasn’t as tall or thin as her brother, but her many arms and longer limbs compared to her torso constantly reminded Osryn of just how Insectera she truly was. He loved his little bug children, he truly did… but he worried about them. Especially Sebastian. The boy had no values that he knew of–– no goals, aspirations, desires. It was concerning.
“Okay,” Osryn addressed his son, who blinked back from wherever he’d been zoning out to. “Your turn.”
With a sigh, Sebastian assumed his starting stance again and began a half-hearted routine. Electricity sizzled between his fingertips and he cast bolts out of them sporadically, making sure to dissolve them before they could strike a solid and cause any damage. Through Haelstron’s wand, he was able to control the length, heat intensity, and speed of his lightning strikes, making a normally erratic and dangerous elemental magic rather calculated. As a test, Osryn decided to cast a few low-temperature plasma balls in Sebastian’s direction, which he was able to dodge with no problem at all. Despite his efficiency in dodging and his skill in controlling his magic through the wand, Osryn’s lips were pressed in a frown when Sebastian finished his routine. It seemed from Sebastian’s own tense jaw and fidgety final stance that he was equally disappointed with himself.
Osryn took a moment before deciding what to say. “That was alright.”
“You don’t have to sugarcoat it, I’m not a fruit fly...” Sebastian muttered, kicking the ground where Adelaide had jabbed it. “I get it. I sucked.”
“You didn’t suck.”
Sebastian raised his eyebrows, knowing well by now that his critical father always had something to say. “...but?”
“But… you could certainly try harder.”
Sebastian’s six eyes blinked incredulously and Osryn immediately regretted what he’d said. “Excuse me?”
“I said,” Osryn began hesitantly, “you could do with a little more practice.”
“Oh, come on, dad! I’m not all buff and lumbering like Laidie is,” Sebastian said, catching his sister’s attention, who turned towards him and glared, shaking her head. “I have a different way of fighting. You told me I was supposed to lean into my strong suits, but what, now that’s not good enough?”
Osryn sighed and pushed his loose hair back from his forehead. “It’s not as simple as that, Sebastian. You’re leaning into them, sure, but you aren’t putting the time in to perfect your form. You’re... sloppy.”
“I’m sloppy?” Sebastian asked, shaking his head in bewilderment and narrowing his eyes. He jabbed a finger towards his sister, who was listening from her spot, eyeing him suspiciously. “She’s the one who’s working with brute strength and a hint of magic. Do you even know how hard it is to focus hard enough to control synthetic lightning? To bend the rules of spacetime itself?”
“I do, actually.” Osryn couldn’t help but become rather short with him. “I happen to be the one who taught you all of that, and the least you could do is show me the courtesy of trying to care. Adelaide is strong, yes, but that’s not why she’s shown better progress than you. She has more to show for her efforts simply because she’s put more in.”
“You think I don’t try?” Sebastian’s voice cracked. “I try! I- I might not practice for hours after our lessons like she does, and I might get a little distracted sometimes… but, I try!”
“You see, you just proved my point. You’re distractible. Your mind wanders off. You don’t practice on your own because you can’t be bothered. It’s not about what you know, it's about the efficiency and efficacy of the way you use that knowledge. That’s why Adelaide’s routine flowed better than yours, despite your inherent agility.”
“Well, maybe I’m just not good enough, okay?” Sebastian shrugged his shoulders and sank quickly to the ground like a marionette being dropped, crossing his long legs and hanging his head. “I’m never going to be strong enough.”
At this, Adelaide was done being silent from a distance. She stood up, walked over to her brother, and joined him on the ground, putting one of her left arms around his shoulder and the other around his waist. He sighed and sank into her, leaving Osryn speechless yet again. Somehow, he always managed to hurt the people he cared most about. However, he knew he was right. Lucky for him, Adelaide did too.
“You know, Seb,” she started, poking him in the arm, “you could practice with me sometime. I know you spend a lot of time translating that scroll, or just reading, but maybe you could take a little bit more time to work on things? Don’t you want your attacks to be more effective? Don’t you wanna look cool while you fight?”
“I don’t look cool?” Sebastian asked, half-seriously. “What am I doing wrong?”
“Well…” Adelaide’s voice took on a higher pitch as she drew out the word, eventually leading into, “Dad kind of already told you. You need to work harder on the individual aspects of your training. That way, when you put it all together, things will flow so much better.”
”But…” There was a hint of hopelessness in Sebastian’s voice. “I don’t know how. Everything just jumbles together. I don’t know how to pull the individual aspects apart.”
Adelaide smiled. “I can help you!”
After a moment of silence, Sebastian relented with a sigh. “I guess you’re right… and I guess I can practice with you.”
Adelaide flashed Osryn a thumbs up with a hand Sebastian couldn’t see, and he smiled at her. He didn’t know what he would do with Sebastian if it weren’t for Adelaide helping bridge the divide between them. If anything, Sebastian reminded him far too much of himself at that age for his liking. So stubborn and narrow-minded, unwilling to put in the effort to change yet dissatisfied with his stagnance. Thankfully, Sebastian had Adelaide there for him. A loving sibling was something Osryn had simply never had.
The tension dissipated and the trio continued their training. Sebastian made the vague effort to at least seem like he was more focused than he usually was. Soon enough, the sun had set over the horizon and they decided it would be as good a time as any to call it a day. Osryn started heading towards the back door to head inside and start cooking dinner.
“I was going to practice some more until supper,” Adelaide was telling Sebastian as Osryn walked away. “Do you care to join me?”
Sebastian didn’t feel like he had a choice.
Osryn chuckled to himself as he stepped inside and removed his boots, knocking the dirt off them out the door before he shut it. He went into the kitchen with thoughts of the day filling his mind. What was he going to do about Sebastian? He cranked on the gas stove and lit a fire in the wood one, allowing the cool home to become cozier before his children would enter it to eat. It was the turn of seasons from summer to autumn and the cool nights were noticeable and uncomfortable since no one had gotten used to them yet. Osryn was in the middle of chopping some of Daniela’s garden-grown cabbage when he heard the back screen door slam and bounce repeatedly against its frame.
“What did I tell you about slamming that door!” Osryn yelled over his shoulder, but Sebastian appeared, poking his head out of the back hallway and looking confused.
“Uh... Laidie found a cat.”
Osryn blinked and put down the knife. “What?”
“Just come see.”
Osryn followed Sebastian into the backyard, where Adelaide was giggling on the ground, lifting a small purring kitten above her. It wasn’t unheard of to see stray cats around Lunora, but they usually did not wander so far towards the outskirts of town. This one was white with black spots and… Osryn’s face twisted up when he noticed the hole where the cat’s left eye should be.
“Laidie, darling…” Osryn tried to get her attention, but it took a moment of him repeating her name before she looked toward him.
“Oh, hi, dad. I found a kitty! Isn’t she cute?”
Osryn looked at Sebastian, who shrugged. Neither of them had taken her for a cat person, but neither her nor Sebastian had ever really seen one outside of picture books before. It seemed that this deformed little kitten had struck a chord in Adelaide’s heart. After all, the kitten was abnormal, just like her.
“You want to keep it, don’t you?” Osryn cut straight to the chase. Adelaide cupped the kitten in all four of her hands and it curled up there, content and purring.
“Can I? I’ve already named her…”
Osryn sighed, but he couldn’t help but smile. He walked up to where Adelaide was kneeling and crouched beside her, petting the small animal’s matted and dirty fur.
“Of course you can, dear. What’s her name?”
Looking at the mangy little thing, that name seemed fitting enough. The three took their newfound pet inside and the twins got it cleaned up while Osryn finished up dinner. After eating, the family gathered in the den around the blazing wood stove to play with their newest addition. Seeing his children so happy, only if for a night, Osryn felt as though maybe he was doing right by them after all.
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Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
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