January 21, 2018

1.11 The Key to Answers

‘Why?’




It was my first word. I have always been told that I was an inquisitive boy. I wanted to know everything, and ‘why’ is the word that got me there. 



‘Why are we moving to Aurora Skies?’




‘Why are we taking a boat?’




‘Why do you look so sad?’




‘Why did mommy leave us?’ 




I think my father got tired of it quickly, even though he tried not to. My sister definitely did, and I nearly lost a few teeth when most of her ‘shut ups’ were met with ‘why?’ 




I was insatiable as a child, no answers satisfied me.




‘Why is mustard yellow?’




‘Why don’t waterfalls run out of water?’ 




‘Why don’t nan and pop seem to age?’




'Why are the police here?'



‘Why him?’




‘Why?’
Despite seldom getting answers that satisfy me, I’ll never stop asking.


~~~~~~

“What are you doing, Stein?” Soliana tapped anxiously against Stein’s shoulder as he focused his magic into the lock.


“Trying to get into the house.” He whispered back, resisting rolling his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing?”


“Have doors changed that much? We used to have… well... these metal things called ‘keys…’” Her voice reflected genuine confusion.


He resisted laughing by biting his lip and closing his eyes. This woman was utterly ridiculous. “Yes, we still have those; unfortunately, the owners of this house finally wised up and started using them.” His voice dropped. “They never used to.”


He manipulated his magic and gave the lock one more zap before it finally released and gave them entry.
“Whose house is this?” Soliana persisted behind him as they made their way into the familiar foyer.


“Stein?! Is that you?” The lights suddenly flickered on and Stein groaned internally. The woman’s voice carried on down the hallway.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s me, nan. I was trying not to wake you.”


“You know there’s a key under the rock, don’t you?” He could make out her silhouette further down the hallway before the lights in the hallway flickered on, revealing her face.
He shook his head. “It wasn’t there - I did check.”


She wiped the sleep out of her face before adjusting her sweater. “Oh, your sister must still have it then.”
“As she usually does.” Stein swallowed back bitterness.


“Now, now. Let’s not get into it tonight, love.” She looked back into the bedroom she had come out of. “Is? It’s just Stein, you can put that away, dearest.” She turned back to them and made her way down the hallway. “Robert warned us you were probably going to be coming this way.”
Stein froze in place. “Did he come through here?” If he had been forced to leave the the God of Magic’s realm then things were far worse than Stein had realized.


His grandmother shook her head. “Just a letter; untraceable, but I’d recognize his penmanship anywhere. I’m relieved you made it out - the word has already gotten out, a full out rebellion erupted. Few alive have seen anything so bad before.”


Soliana tugged on Stein’s jacket as she hid behind him and that snapped him back into the present. He didn’t have time to hope his mentor was still safe. Everything was practically on fire in the Library and the Madame Irena was on a manhunt. Robert was a survivor though, and Stein was hoping he had learned a thing or two in all the years he studied under him. He carefully stepped to the side and motioned to the girl behind him. “Nan, this is Soliana - the girl I’ve been telling you about.”


His grandmother had stepped around him and placed her hands on Soliana’s shoulders, causing her to freeze in place. “Oh, you poor girl, getting caught all up in the middle of this nonsense; it’s why I’m grateful I don’t work for the gods anymore.” She pulled Soliana against her side and began to walk her back towards the kitchen. “Come now, darling. Let me make you something warm to drink. It’s freezing outside, you two shouldn’t be standing in the doorway.”


Stein hesitated for a moment by the door; he shouldn’t stay long. He had accomplished what he needed to do - Soliana was safe now.
He hadn’t been allowed to think on it long before his grandma turned and gave him a weary stare. “Come, Stein.”


Stein relented and followed them into the kitchen where his grandpa was already heating up the kettle. “My name is Chrysanthemum, but everyone calls me Chrys. That’s my husband, Isidore. We’re Stein’s grandparents - I’m sorry we couldn’t meet you in better circumstances.” His grandma coaxed Soliana into sitting down at the table next to her.


“You have a lovely home.” Soliana said politely, her arms wrapping around herself delicately. Her demeanor was almost regal - as he had started to see her embrace more and more.
“Thank you, dear. Isidore built it ages ago. It’ll always be home for us.” His grandmother’s eye caught him in the doorway and looked at him with skepticism. “Stein, are you just going to stand in the doorway? Come, have a seat.”


Stein’s eyes dropped and resisted giving a glance over his shoulder. “I…” Now was not the time for this conversation. There wasn’t enough time for this conversation. He needed to leave now. “Can I talk to you, nan?”
She looked at him with her eyes slightly narrowed but she nodded, pulling herself up from the table and walking with him into the office that was connected to the kitchen. She adjusted her sweater around herself and looked at him quietly. “You’re not staying, are you?”


Stein shook his head, barely able to meet her eyes. “I can’t, nan. When the fighting started I ran to get Soliana out. In Irena’s eyes I’m a deserter and I know she’ll be coming for me - and for Sol. I have to get Soliana under someone’s protections before that happens.”
She nodded solemnly. “I understand. Who do you plan to seek?”


He sighed, slumping in his stance and running his fingers through his hair. “I… I have a list of people I can call on - it’s small but mighty. I was propositioned earlier by the Lord Agonin about Soliana’s health and wellbeing. He’s expressed an interest in helping, so at the very least she’d be safe there-”
“What about you, love? Where’s Robert at? Can he help you?” His grandmother persisted.


“He’s staying with his daughter and the God of Magic right now. He offered for me to stay there, all I’d need to do is get to Midnight Hollow.” Stein slumped against the desk and let out a long breath. He was exhausted. He couldn’t stop here though. He’d be found far too quickly. Soliana would be found. He wasn’t going to drag her into a fight that wasn’t hers. She was finally starting to get comfortable and stronger…
“That shouldn’t be difficult for you to arrange in the next few days-”


Stein began shaking his head. “I can’t teleport there, nan. Irena will know if I use magic, she’ll sense it. I have to do this on foot.”
“You didn’t grab any teleportation potions before you left?” His grandmother looked at him with pleading eyes.


“I was a little busy trying to not die.” He finally pulled himself off the desk. “Besides, I need to cause enough of a stir to get Irena’s attention off of you and off of Sol.”
Soliana especially.


His grandmother rubbed her hand against her face with weariness at the subject and he understood the feeling well. “Take some food with you before you go - and clothes. We still have some of your old clothes up in your room.” She turned towards the door and opened it. “Is? Can you start to gather a knapsack of food please.”


He watched his grandmother exchange a look with his grandfather - communicating through facial expressions before he turned and got to work.


Stein stepped forward hastily. “Can she stay here, please? I dragged her into this. She’s the last person I want to get pulled under because of things out of her control.”
“Of course, love. Have you told her this, though?”
Stein’s face must have answered her question, because she closed her eyes and sighed.
“You better get to it, dear. I’ll go get you some money and a passport.”


He moved to embrace his grandmother tightly. “Thank you, nan.”
She rubbed his back lovingly. “Of course, Stein. Just promise me you’ll write to us when you get somewhere safe?”
“I will.”
His grandmother disappeared out of the room and Stein finally stepped back into the kitchen. Soliana had stood up from the table, looking at him wearily with her light eyes shining in the dim kitchen. “Where are we going?”


He was tempted to smile at her persistence, and for a brief moment he contemplated taking her with him. He could show her the world as they traveled through several countries. Monte Vista was once her home a long time ago, he would love to take her to see it again but…


He couldn’t.
Not now.
He was likely being pursued, and if he wasn’t at the moment he would be soon. He wouldn’t drag her through this, not if he could help it. Seeing the determination in her eyes made him nearly forget how delicate that determination could be. She only just started making progress, and taking her away from routine now could ruin everything they’ve worked for - everything she’s worked to overcome.
Yes, perhaps the lab environment wasn’t good for her - even he admitted it was draining being in and out of there - but dragging her across the world with no guarantees for her safety just wasn’t worth the risk.


Stein finally managed to shake his head at her question. “We’re not. I am.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, and he could already see her preparing her argument behind the downward twist of her lips.


“This isn’t something I want to do, Sol. I don’t have much of a choice. I need to secure someplace safe for you and there’s a strong chance I’m going to be hunted down while I do it.” He tried to get his argument in before the war began, because gods only knew what Soliana had prepared for him.
“So you’re just going to leave me here?! Until when? Are you even planning on coming back?” There was a fire in her eyes and she crossed her arms. “Where am I supposed to go?!”


He was tempted to laugh - not because her arguments were funny, nor the way she acted. It was mostly because he somehow always ended up the bad guy in fights with her. “You’ll stay here with my grandparents. They’re good people and they’ll keep you safe… then you can do whatever you like: pursue hobbies, read, work on the studies you’ve found interesting.”


Her anger hadn’t cooled and she continued to come at him relentlessly. “So I’m supposed to… what? Impose myself upon strangers in a strange land? Where will you be?”
“I’m-”
“You’re not answering all my questions, either!” She interrupted.


“Calm down, Sol! I’m trying to answer your questions but you need to ask them one at a time!” He shot back. For someone who once asked a lot of questions, he sure was struggling to answer a lot of questions. Is this why his sister always gave him black eyes? Though Soliana could never be as bad as he was.
Her gaze has dropped and she contemplated the situation. Finally after a minute of composing herself, she met his gaze again. “Ok then, where are you going, Stein?” Her voice was level and held the air of regalness she had made her own.


Stein gave her a weak smile. “I’m headed out on foot to find someone powerful who can take us in and offer us protection. The Library is no longer safe for either of us, and because I didn’t want to risk you and left, the Madame Irena will consider me a traitor and likely call for my death.”
This cooled her significantly and she looked almost startled. “Oh…” She swallowed as she contemplated before trying again. “What about the Lord Agonin? He and I have passed parchments and he seems kind. You could stay and use my seal to send him a letter to request protection and housing.”


An airy chuckle escaped him - he couldn’t help it. How little she knew on the gods was endearing and refreshing at time. She looked prepared to take offense and he held up his hand quickly to beat her to it. “Sol, I know your memories from before aren’t the clearest, but let me try to put this in a way that will explain the predicament. You were of noble birth - as we’ve determined - and so imagine that someone else of noble birth has cast out a man and a woman who are not married and claimed them to be traitors. You then receive a letter from these people who claim they need refuge and expect or even just ask you to give it. They’re peasants and possibly troublemakers - you don’t know for sure. What do you do?”


She looked off in thought, biting her cheek gently before sighing. “So you think he’ll reject us if we write him a letter, but going there will make him change his mind?”
Stein shook his head. “What I plan to do is get out of this country and make it to another country close by - Midnight Hallow. I’m going to use enough magic to draw attention to myself in a casual way to ensure that Irena doesn’t come sniffing around here for very long. After that I’m going to have to lose any pursuers and make my way south, catch a boat to the furthest continent and head for Monte Vista where my hope is I can reason with Agonin and have something to offer him in exchange.”


Soliana was quiet for several moments before she shrugged. “I still think you’re being ridiculous. I can send a letter and request transport and an audience with him if that’s what needs to happen. His letters have been nothing but kind and fair. I believe he could be very reasonable.”
He resisted rolling his eyes. “You do realize that the Lord Agonin is very much a god - just like the man who once plagued you once was?”


She clenched her fists hard in response and he knew he had crossed a line. “He is nothing like that monster! You take that back this instant!”
It was true that the Lord Agonin was known for his fairness, but Stein didn’t know him. Everyone has a motive in the world, especially gods. He was already weary going to him to ask for sanctuary on behalf of Soliana. He had no idea what kind of intentions Agonin would have for her - he simply had to hope it would be good and not some kind of trap. “Alright, fine! If it makes you happy, but I still stand by my statement. We don’t know him, and I’m not going to risk putting you with someone who can hurt you again!”


Soliana’s face shifted suddenly with surprise and then with vulnerability before she returned to her more timid, yet still regal, self. “I…” She cleared her throat and her voice dropped to something barely audible. “Thank you.”


Stein almost couldn’t believe what he’d heard. She was thanking him? He felt himself smile as he resisted another laugh at his victory. Perhaps civil communication with her wasn’t so far out of reach? Maybe one day he wouldn’t be the one to receive her ire. “I already feel bad that I’m putting you in a vulnerable position as it is - that’s also why I wanted to go alone. The Lord Agonin has expressed interest in you, and yes he’s known to be a kind and just person but… after all you’ve endured I would not put you in a position to where someone could take advantage of you again. I know my grandparents are strangers to you, but I also know and trust them far more than an extremely powerful god. Is that fair?”


Soliana nodded somewhat weakly in response and he felt a bit guilty. He would much rather receive her ire at this rate. “So… if he writes to me, would it be unwise to write back?”
Stein contemplated the matter for a moment before shaking his head. “His seal is forged with his magic, so it should be ok. To be safe, I urge you to not put any identifying information in the letters - namely where you are or ways he may find you or my family. Especially not my family, please. I have no doubt Agonin wouldn’t do anything to them, but if the Madame Irena were to catch the mail somehow and read it…”


She nodded, seemingly not needing more of an explanation. “I understand and will heed that.”
“Thank you.” He breathed out with slight relief. “My grandparents raised me for a good portion of my life, I really do mean it when I say they’re good people and will help you with any questions that you have. I swear to you, no matter how many questions you think you can ask - I’ve asked far more and they never once gave me a shiner for it. My sister is another story, though.” He tried to joke.
Soliana looked at him partially confused. “A shiner?”


This made him laugh a little more and he shook his head. “I’m sorry… um, a black eye? Like when you ‘accidentally’ elbowed my nose and bruised me here a few weeks back?” He pointed to his upper cheek with a smirk.
She huffed slightly and rolled her eyes. “It was an accident. Your face simply got in the way of my elbow.”


“Whatever you say, your highness.” He smirked again as she stewed. He wouldn’t mind staying here with her. He used to find it annoying and unproductive when they would waste time aggravating each other back in the Library, but now he missed those days.
“Stein, we’ve got your stuff ready, love. Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night and take off in the morning?” His grandmother’s form appeared in the kitchen archway.


Of course he wanted to. He wanted to stay period, but that wasn’t an option. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, nan. I should go quickly and try to get as far as I can before the dust settles at the Library and the Lady Irena goes on the hunt for those who fled.”
“When will you be back?” Soliana grabbed his attention again. “Will you at least write to me?”


“I have no idea, Sol. I won’t be able to be in contact with you until I’m assured some safety, but I will let you know as soon as I can. I speculate the journey will be… a month to maybe a month and a few weeks at max, I have a lot of ground I need to cover, especially if I’m stopping in Midnight Hollow first.” He took in her face once more - he wanted a good reminder for his journey.


“Then you best get a move on while you still have the cover of darkness and the fighting is potentially still underway.” His grandmother urged him.
It may even be a long shot to hope Soliana would be safe here, but it was the best chance she would have. He smiled at her weakly. “Take care of yourself, Soliana. I’ll be back as soon as possible.” He started moving for the archway before stopping as he remembered something. His voice dropped low, “and should it ever come down to it and you have the option, pick the Lord Agonin over Irena. Ok?”


Soliana nodded and he continued on for the door only to be stopped by her voice. “Stein!”
He turned to look at her curiously.
She shifted in place, slight anger on her face. “You better come back! Or… Or…” She sucked in a breath as she came up with her incoming threat. “Or I’ll come out there and… give you a… shiner myself!” She nodded with satisfaction at what she came up with.


Stein laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, your highness.” He turned and could see his grandmother cracking a smile.
“I’m going to like her.” She whispered to him as he walked past.
“She’s… a fireball.” He joked back.
“We’ll keep her safe, Stein.”


He looked up and saw his grandfather nodding carefully. He embraced his grandparents one more time and slipped out into the night alone.


1 comment:

  1. Stein omfg my heart
    Goes out to you
    My poor man
    You're so obviously DEEPLY IN LOVE with her
    But you're notttttt Jack, I'm so sorry bud
    LEMME HUG YOU. YOU POOR BUTTERFLY.
    And mustard is yellow because of food colorant, I got your back babe

    ReplyDelete