Element of the Abstract: Chapter Seven
Seasons changed, and so too did the children. It was summer in Lunora, which meant brighter, partly cloudy days instead of cold and rainy ones. It meant rare glimpses of sunlight that best be remembered, lest you forget the warmth will return during the dead of winter next. This particular day was warm, but not too hot, which for the middle of July said a lot about their valley’s climate. Golden late afternoon sunlight spilled through the wide, west-facing window, warming the complexions of the three Selds clustered around their dining table.
“Make up your mind, Sebastian!” Adelaide said, drumming ten fingers on the table and clutching a hand of cards in her other two hands. “What’s it going to be?”
Sebastian shot daggers at her, glancing at his cards, at his sister, at his father, and back at the cards. Exasperated, Sebastian threw his hand on the table and crossed his arms. “I fold.”
Smirking, Adelaide laid out her hand on the table— three of a kind. Osryn shook his head in resignation, flipping over his pair of tens and scoffing as his daughter pulled the pot of assorted coins towards her. The coins they played for had no monetary value, not anymore, but a handful of them were enchanted–– not that Osryn could remember which ones, or what they did, or even how he had come upon most of them.
Sebastian caught sight of her hand immediately and leaned over the table, head in hand. “Damn it, Laidie! Why do you always know when I have a good hand?”
“Intuition,” Adelaide said, winking. “But, also, you make it really obvious.”
“I’m more impressed she knew I had a bad hand,” Osryn mused, raising his eyebrow and scratching at a scab on his cheek. “Tell me, Adelaide… who taught you how to count cards?”
Adelaide went red in the face. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, yes you do!” Osryn insisted, pointing at the pot she had just won. “I’m not as good as you, so it had to have come from somewhere.”
Adelaide rolled her eyes and gave in. “Auntie Daniela taught me.”
Osryn smiled and snapped his fingers. “I knew it. Damn woman was always a wizard…”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the wizard?” Sebastian teased.
Someone rapped on the door. Osryn wasn’t expecting anyone, but he couldn’t have been more pleased to hear the knock. He got up and headed to the door, swinging it open to greet the only person who ever came around. “Great timing, Dee, we were just talking about you.”
In front of him stood not Daniela, but a man about his height, with wavy black hair and a mustache. He wore large round glasses and an expensive-looking suit, holding an umbrella even though it was sunny. Despite his well-put-together appearance, there was an unmistakable eccentricity to the man in front of him. Perhaps it was that oddness, the few hairs that weren’t smoothed down and the wrinkles in his suit jacket, that tipped Osryn off to who exactly it was that stood before him. Someone whose face he’d almost forgotten. Someone whom he hadn’t seen since long before the children entered his life.
“Nygel!” Osryn gasped, immediately stepping outside and shutting the door. There was no way he could let him see the children. His brother raised an eyebrow skeptically.
“Hello, Osryn.” Nygel said this with a slight air of pomposity, as though the mere fact he bothered to come out here was a compliment to Osryn’s worth. “How long has it been now? Five years? Ten?”
“I’m sure you know, Nygel,” Osryn responded flatly. “You’re supposed to be this big genius after all.”
“Genius? Oh, no, no, no… I prefer to call myself an entrepreneur.” Nygel waved his hand dismissively. “Enough about me. I came here to see my baby brother!”
“You’re younger than me!” Osryn scoffed. His fist clenched unconsciously, a habit from numerous arguments past. “Are you seriously going to do this again? Right now? I don’t see you for decades, and you just show up––”
“Tell me, brother,” Nygel interrupted, scratching his chin. “Why do I hear voices beyond your door?”
“I’m babysitting. Daniela’s kids. So, if you could please get back to where you came from, that would be wonderful.”
“Daniela’s kids?” Nygel quirked one of his dark bushy eyebrows. “Oh, Osryn… So you did end up a bachelor, cuckolded by a greater man and forced to care for his offspring? I had always hoped you’d prove me wrong. That’s sad, dear brother… So, so sad…”
“Shut it, Nygel, and get off my property!” Osryn was not going to put up with this if he didn’t have to. “If I were you, I’d go back to your western paradise and never come back. Thank you.”
With a mockingly-polite nod, Osryn pushed the door open and attempted to make a quick getaway. Nygel, however, had traveled a long distance to get here, and would not simply take no for an answer. Before Osryn could slam the door, Nygel thrust his umbrella into it and leveraged it open, waltzing his way through like he hadn’t broken a sweat.
Osryn stopped Nygel in the foyer, gripping him by both shoulders and narrowing his eyes. “Why are you here brother? Really.”
“I’ve moved back to the valley, Osryn.”
“Great. So I have to deal with you just popping in unannounced, now?”
Nygel shrugged. “Well, maybe not that much. I’m living in Solelio, you see.”
Osryn had never been to Solelio. Geographically, it was on the opposite side of Mount Astella, the central peak of the area. There, the microclimate was vastly different from Lunora’s, and it was sunny almost all of the time. With Nygel always having been a westerner at heart, Osryn wasn’t surprised that he’d decided to plant his roots there.
“Well, I certainly do not need you coming around. Do not act as though we are neighbors. You have never been neighborly to me.”
“Oh, Osryn, you wound me so!” Nygel dramatically held his hand to his head as though faint. “All I’ve ever wanted was to help you… it’s not my fault you’re beyond help.”
Osryn closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “Get. Out.”
“Why, brother, are you so eager to cast me aside?”
“If I could, I’d cast you into the fire.”
Nygel shrugged and a crooked smile dimpled his cheeks. “Fair enough! Now, where’s the wine in this house—”
“Wait, no, stop!”
Before Osryn could stop him, Nygel had slipped past him into the den, where he was greeted with the undeniable sight of Osryn’s two abnormal children. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he held a hand over his mouth. “Oh my sun and stars…” Quickly, he regained his poise and held his chin cheekily. “Babysitting, are we? My, my… what unusual children you’ve found, indeed.”
Sebastian took Adelaide’s hand and Osryn quickly ran between them, protectively putting an arm around both their shoulders. They knew they were never supposed to reveal their true identities to anyone but the Macrons, but it was futile. They were exposed, and they would fight if they had to.
“Tell a soul,” Osryn’s voice took on a low tone, “and you are dead.”
Nygel raised his hands defensively, “Relax, relax! I mean no harm. I’m just admiring the beautiful specimens you’ve obtained.”
“Who are you?” Adelaide spoke up, glaring trustlessly at the man who was already getting on her nerves.
“Thats, uh…” Osryn stalled. Nygel grinned and pushed up his glasses.
“I’m your Uncle Nygel!”
Osryn sighed. He had been worried he might say that. “Right…”
“Uncle Nygel?” Adelaide narrowed her eyes. “Isn’t he the one you hate?”
Osryn ignored her and addressed Nygel again. “What brought you back? I thought you were thrilled with the west.”
“Well, I wanted to be closer to mom and dad. Have you spoken to them lately?”
Osryn froze. “Uh. I…”
“You have parents?” Sebastian scoffed, aghast. “I thought they were dead!”
“You’ve never once mentioned them…” Adelaide looked at Osryn as though she wondered what else he was hiding.
Osryn ignored the children, unsure how even to answer Nygel’s question, never mind unpack all that. His parents still lived in Lunora, in the very house they’d raised him in, but he hadn’t visited ever since they deemed him a heretic. Not in over thirty years. “No. I haven’t. Mother and father don’t care much for me these days.”
Nygel frowned. “Aw, what a shame. I suppose it makes sense. You did dedicate your life to the mockery of their faith.”
“Blind faith is a mockery of itself, Nygel. It’s about time someone told you that. Speaking of which, whose ass are you kissing now, to get all this money?”
Nygel’s eyes glimmered. “I’ll have you know I am self-made, brother. But I am happily taken, unlike someone I know. You wouldn’t even know her. She’s far out of your league.”
“Did I ask for your life story?” Osryn grumbled. “Why do we go on and on like this? What is the point?”
“The point is that I’m relatively local now, and I hope to see you––and your little ones––again.”
Sebastian glared. “Little? You sure about that?”
Nygel ignored him, gazing at them in wonder. The silence, and his increasingly unnerving staring was driving Osryn up a wall. The pot boiled over when Nygel reached out tentatively to touch Adelaide’s hair. Osryn slapped his hand away.
“Do not touch my kid. You’ve already overstayed your welcome. Go home.”
Nygel pouted, instead twirling one of the bouncy strands of hair that framed his own face. “Really, Osryn? You’re still going to act like this? When will you accept that I’m simply richer and better than you? You’d be a lot happier if you stopped with all this nonsense about ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose.’”
“Get out!” Osryn growled, lifting his hands and beginning to form small orbs of hot plasma within them. Nygel caught one look at the burgeoning magic and leapt to his feet, eyes wide.
“Haha, oops! I always forget about that whole wizard thing of yours. O- Okay, brother… I shall get going.”
Osryn corralled his brother out of the den and into the foyer. Nygel walked through the door, but peeked back through the crack to add: “Promise you’ll visit, though?”
“No.” Osryn put out the spell and slammed the door in his face. He walked swiftly back to the den, where he poured himself a drink and tried to ignore Nygel calling from outside.
“Suit yourself, Osryn! I’ll be seeing you one way or another. Fate brought us back together today… I have faith it will do so again.”
Osryn sighed deeply and sipped his drink, looking out the window to confirm that his brother was indeed leaving the premises. Once his bobbing frame had disappeared down the road into the forest, Osryn finally relaxed and turned back to the children, who were visibly shaken. He didn’t blame them–– they had very little experience with other humans, and Nygel was an odd and intimidating one to begin with.
Adelaide and Sebastian stared expectantly at their father, but he had no idea where to begin. Avoiding eye contact and instead staring straight ahead into the fire of the wood stove, Osryn swirled the mead in his glass and adjusted his glasses. “I’m… sorry you had to see that.”
“He knows.” Adelaide’s voice was low and solemn. “He knows about us.”
“Yes…” Osryn muttered. “He does, and I know not what he intends to do with that information. If I’m being honest with you, children… he has always been a little too fond of bugs.”
“Too fond?” Sebastian asked.
Osryn only looked at him and shook his head. “It’s better you don’t know.”
“Well, that’s great…” Adelaide sighed, running her hands through her long tangled hair. “Your estranged brother knows our deepest secrets now. And what’s your plan to deal with it? Nothing? What if he tells everyone we’re here? D- Dad, we have to leave!”
“No!” Osryn didn’t mean to come off as harshly as he did, but the stress of seeing his brother was enough, never mind the looming threat of exposure. “No… I’m not worried that he’d let it go public. Nygel’s not the type to do something like that. With him, it’s always personal. If he’s going to use this information to ruin us, he’s going to do it his own twisted way.”
Sebastian grimaced. “Wow, thanks, that’s so reassuring. So, what, we just wait and hope he doesn’t ‘ruin us?’ What even is your problem with each other anyway?”
Osryn sighed, straining to think of a good way to put it that didn’t feel like a lie. He and Nygel had fought for as long as he could remember. It was always a battle about who was better, stronger, faster, smarter. Who could keep their parents attention, or who could make them madder when they acted up. If there was anything he wanted in the world for his children, it was for them not to make the same mistakes he did. He wouldn’t know how to live with himself if they grew distant the way he and Nygel had.
“Nygel and I are… fundamentally different people. I like routine, he lives for chaos. We simply never got along… not like you two.”
The siblings looked at each other for a moment and Adelaide smiled, sensing Sebastian’s worry and taking his hands in hers. “You know, Sebastian, even if the secret did get out, we would be alright… we’ve been training, right? If anyone tried to cross us, we could take them down!”
“I guess…” Sebastian reluctantly allowed his sister to squeeze his hands. “I just wish we didn’t have to hide at all. Like, if that happened, would we just be fugitives? I don’t want to live my life on the run.”
“I know.” Adelaide pursed her lips; she did know, all too well. “I mean, we’re strong, but how could we stop the military from coming to lock us away in glass boxes to experiment on us? Or the religious fanatics from deeming us the work of celestial forces and proof of higher life?”
“Listen,” Osryn started, putting down his now-empty glass. “You’re both catastrophizing. Nygel is a twisted man with no moral compass and a passion for the abnormal, but if there’s one thing he hates more than me, it’s institution. Whatever he does with the information he has, he wouldn’t allow it to get into the hands of the government… or religion.”
Nothing more was said after that. Adelaide went to play with Flea in the corner and Sebastian retreated silently to his room while Osryn poured himself another tall glass of mead. The poker game was unceremoniously considered over, and no one cleared the table before they all dispersed to be alone with their unnerving thoughts. Osryn didn’t think that Nygel would let the information go to just anyone… but there was always a chance he knew exactly the person to tell it to that could make their lives a living hell. Nygel knew people. As Osryn stared into the wood stove and drank his thoughts away, he wondered if, when it all came down to it, he truly could cast his brother into the flames. He didn’t want it to come to that.
“Look at us now, dad…” Osryn muttered, and his eyes fluttered shut. No moonlight shone through the wide window, and the stove fire slowly wore itself out. As the alcohol profused his bloodstream, he slipped into a broken sleep right there on the couch.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins