The vinyl placed into a record player atop the kitchen counter began playing. The song started with the soft, sweet sounds of guitar strings being plucked. It was another of Richter’s favorites, and as he moved away from the counter to peek into the oven, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
“Of all the songs you choose for the occasion,” I teased, “You choose the one Mom sang to us when we were growing up?”
Richter closed the oven and turned to face me, casually leaning back against it and looking as relaxed as ever. “It’s a nice song!” the blonde insisted, “If I let you pick the music for everything, you’d just play some kind of punk or rap for every occasion!”
“Those are the best genres of music, so yes,” I confessed, grinning widely, “Yes I would.”
My older brother and I shared a laugh. We were back in our childhood home in the White Mountains. Snow padded the windowsill outside, an active fireplace crackled in our living room (to my left), and I was slouched lazily against our large dinner table (on my immediate right).
“I hope I’m not boring you.” Richter said, gritting his teeth, “I got dinner started a little later than I meant to. Prep gets a little more time consuming when you’ve been too busy to cook for the better part of a year.”
“It smells wonderful,” I said, waving my hand, “Don’t worry about it. Plus, not everyone’s here yet…”
Who are we waiting for?
Immediately after I thought that, the doorbell rang.
This was immediately followed by three very hard knocks.
Michelle, our older sister, shouted through the door, “If you two don’t let me in right now-”
Being extra as always, Richter teleported into the shadows by the doorway to open the door and let Michelle in. Our sister came in from the snow, hastily kicked off her shoes and shrugged off her jacket, which she hanged alongside ours on a coat rack.
Richter closed the door behind her. “Sorry, sis.” he said.
Michelle stretched her arms upward and replied, “I can handle a little snow, don’t worry about it.”
While we Lockhearts usually love wearing our black jackets or some variation, they can get a little bit cumbersome indoors. Even rarer than seeing the three Lockheart siblings together was seeing them together without any kind of black clothing on- we all wore simple T-shirts beneath our jackets. Richter’s was tight and white, fitting his thinner frame. Michelle’s wasn’t quite tight and was a bright purple, while mine was long-sleeved, golden and a few sizes too big for me.
I grinned up at my siblings as they walked into the kitchen. “Richter’s making the roast again.” I informed Michelle.
“Oh, I could smell it.” Michelle said, turning to Richter, “You better not have messed it up, little brother.”
Richter rolled his eyes. “Why do you call me little brother?” He asked, then pointed in my direction, “Mike’s the youngest!”
I smirked and waved in response, knowing what Michelle was going to say.
“Because you were little brother first, little brother. I can’t just take that away from you.” She looked in my direction and rolled her eyes, “After all, you can’t beat Mikey as a nickname.”
I caught myself between a grimace and a grin. I liked being called Mikey by my sister- it was definitely better than any variation of little brother- but it was embarrassing when other people started using it, like my girlfri-
“That’s debatable.” I remarked, interrupting my own train of thought, then jumping to another, “How much longer on the roast?”
Richter peeked into the oven again. “A few more minutes, tops. Looks like you got here just in time, sis.”
The doorbell rang again.
I raised an eyebrow. “Are we expecting anyone else?” I asked.
“You didn’t tell him?” Michelle asked Richter.
“Tell me what?”
“Dad’s here.” Richter confessed, putting a hand behind his head and gritting his teeth uneasily.
“Why would you invite that dickhead after what happened to mom?” I hissed.
“He said he wanted to reconnect with us, Mikey.” Michelle said, placing a hand on my shoulder, “You can’t hate him forever.”
“I can and I will.”
“Just a dinner, Mikey.” Michelle smiled weakly. “Please?”
“Fine,” I sighed, “Let the sperm donor in.”
Richter did his door-teleport thing again- does he really have to do that every time?– and let in Cyria, our father, in his aged human form. Seeing him side-by-side with his older son made the resemblance more apparent- the two shared the same blonde hair, the same tanned skin, the same facial structure. Unlike Richter, though, he hadn’t cut his hair short- he let it grow out just a few inches more. He’d come dressed in a white suit with gold accents, totally throwing off our casual aesthetic.
Richter shut the door behind him.
“Hey, dad.” Richter said, patting Cyria’s back, “What’s that you got there?”
Cyria was holding a small brown bag in his right hand. “It’s some wine from Dion’s Bar,” he said, “Little place down in Colony 18. Really good stuff. And since Mikey’s old enough to drink now-”
“You think you can win me over with alcohol after everything?” I sighed.
“No!” Cyria insisted, “I just- I wanted to get you something. For once.”
Michelle stared at me, silently begging me to roll with it.
“Thanks, dad.” I said, through gritted teeth.
Richter and Michelle’s shoulders lowered as they collectively sighed with relief. Cyria extracted the wine bottle from the bag and placed it on the table beside me, giving a weak smile down at me as he did so before moving over to a chair on the opposite side of the table.
Richter moved to the oven, putting on a pair of mitts and extracting the roast from its confines, moving quickly to set it in the center of the table. As he did so, Michelle wordlessly moved to grab a large cleaver and spoon- fortunately, plate arrangements where already made on the table. Which I…hadn’t noticed before?
As my older siblings sat down, I became aware of an empty seat between my dad and Michelle, complete with a plate arrangement.
And the doorbell rang again.
“How many people did you invite?” I asked Richter.
He shrugged. “Just you two and dad.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed, pushing myself out of my chair. “Go ahead and get the plates ready,” I said, “I’ll go get the door.”
I walked quickly through our dimmed living room, dodging a coffee table that I’d once had damn near shatter my shin when I was younger and didn’t have a grasp on my speed yet. As I moved to our front door and opened it to look outside into the snow, I had the tiniest scowl on my face, grumpy at the memory of the coffee table wrecking my shit, still a little upset that dad was here-
Saiten Lockheart stood in the snow just outside our door, smiling at me warmly. She looked just how I remembered her- long, flowing hair like Michelle’s, which was black like mine. White eyes like my siblings, with a shape that we all shared. Her smile was beaming and beautiful as always, more radiant than a Darkness user’s had any right to be.
This doesn’t make any sense-
“Hey, Mikey.” She said, “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t- I don’t understand, you can’t be here-”
My dead mother reached out, placing her right hand on my left cheek. She felt impossibly warm for someone that had been standing in the snow. Or for someone that’s been dead for over a decade. I grasped her wrist with both of my hands, not wanting her to disappear again-
“I’m not here, Mikey.” She said, moving closer to me, “You know that.”
“I wish you were.” I whispered, feeling the pain build up in my chest and the tears building in my eyes, “I need you here so badly-”
“You’re not here either, Mikey.” She said softly.
She leaned in close to me, placing her hands on either side of my face, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against mine. “It’s time to wake up, my baby boy.”
“I can’t-” I whimpered, “I can’t leave you again-”
And I opened my eyes, staring at the ceiling of my cell, blinking away tears.
A few moments later, I heard knocking and rattling in the halls outside. “Time to wake up!” called a prison guard.
Time to wake up.
Disc One: [RE]vival
Track 11: Home Again
March 20th, Year P-132.
Colony 1’s Maximum Security Prison, Bedauern.
My cell was bare. Aside from the crude bed I was sleeping in, a toilet, a sink and a safety glass-coated mirror to my left, there wasn’t much else to speak of. My weapon, my clothes, even my Lockheart Family pendant, had all been taken from me. I wore a dull prison gray jumpsuit, as well as two cuffs on either of my wrists, pulsating with Darkness energy and inhibiting my abilities completely.
Like any other prisoner in Bedauern, I was powerless.
I spent most of my time staring at the ceiling.
I had survived my fight with Nalia, but I didn’t know the specifics. Apparently he had gone to great lengths to heal me and make sure that I survived our encounter. By the time I woke up for the first time in my cell- a few days ago now- my body was completely healed of the damage it had taken during my fight with Nalia. And I had to thank him for at least that- pretty sure he impaled me through the spine at the end there, and being paraplegic for the rest of my life would’ve sucked.
Almost as much as being in fucking prison!
“Lockheart!” a guard called, jolting me out of my ceiling stare trance, “You have a visitor!”
My cuffs snapped together as my cell door opened.
“Who?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I didn’t ask. Some chick. Seemed important enough to get this arranged on such short notice.”
Some chick…important enough…
“Oh, shit.” I muttered.
I took my seat in a booth and picked up the phone so I could speak to the woman on the other side.
“I’m so sick of your shit, Michael.” Aiko Lane responded, glaring at me through the glass, “How come the first time I’ve seen you in nearly a year has to be like this?”
Aiko Lane is a great many things. She’s dark-skinned, boasts an afro, a thick, muscular form, and is just about as enthusiastic about swords as a human being can be. Her eyes are a piercing blue, and while her body’s certainly nothing to scoff at, you can probably guess what drew us together. (It was swords.)
Oh, also she’s my ex. Who I haven’t spoken to in…a while.
I winced. “I needed space.”
“Space.” Aiko sighed, “Space. This coming from the guy that’s so clingy that he said he couldn’t live without me. You needed space?”
“To be fair, we did break up a week later.”
“Because you wanted to!” she said, exasperated, “It’s not my fault you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what he wants!”
“Why are you here?” I sighed, “I’m already in prison, Aiko. Telling me how much of a shitty boyfriend I was isn’t going to do much for either of us.”
She growled under her breath. “I’m not here to chew you out, Mike, it’s just…” she snapped her fingers, “We’ve known each other since we were kids. You fuck me and you ruin it and you don’t try to salvage our friendship? You don’t come to me for help when your siblings go missing, when you become a fugitive?”
“Would you really have harbored me as a fugiti-”
“Yes, you idiot!” she shouted, “I care about you! And apparently I’m the only one of the two of us who does, or else you wouldn’t do whatever stupid, self-destructive things got you put in here in the first place.”
“I tried to kill Nalia Cynd.” I confessed, “That might’ve had something to do with it.”
She leaned forward and her eyes widened. “What? Why were you-”
“It’s…a little complicated.” I sighed, “I think Michelle’s being manipulated by Vincent, I found Nalia trying to kill her, it was this whole-”
“By Vincent? Vincent Lockheart-Vincent?”
“It’s a really long story.”
She gave another exasperated sigh. “Isn’t it always with you?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.
After a pause, Aiko said, “I’m sorry. I really wasn’t here to yell at you. I’m just trying to help. My family has pull in the Royal Guard- not as much as yours, but- well- I’m trying to get you some leniency, Michael. I don’t know what the charges are yet but they’re sounding bad. Moreno really wants you to fry.”
“Moreno? That jackass who worked under Richter?”
“That jackass is the current CO of the Royal Guard, since Richter went AWOL.” Aiko said, “He was Richter’s right hand, and Stane’s before him. He’s been gunning for the top spot for a long time, had it for a little while after Stane died. I think he’s a little bit pissed that Richter took it from him, and he might want to take it out on you.”
I groaned, covering my face with my left hand. “Of course he does. If I’m not dealing with my father’s stupid blood feuds, of course I’m going to deal with grandpa’s instead.”
“Hey, don’t worry too much.” Aiko insisted, “We’re doing our best to make sure that Moreno doesn’t get full authority here. And- and this is really good- I think Nalia might be on our side.”
I squinted at her. “Nalia is the guy I stabbed and cut open to get in here to begin with. Why would he be helping?”
“He hasn’t pressed charges yet,” Aiko said, “And I hear he’s going to visit you soon. Like, tonight-soon.”
“What does he even want to talk about?” I asked, “What is that conversation going to be like? ‘Hey, I tried to kill your sister.’ Hey, I tried to kill you! ‘Want to get off for free?’ Boy, do I!”
“When I said ‘get off’, I didn’t mean like-”
“I know, Michael.” Aiko sighed, “I know. I’m glad you’re okay.”
I nodded. “I’m glad you’re okay, too. It’s good to see you again.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can’t come down here every day, but I won’t let you languish in here. I’ll try and see if I can’t get you some reading material, at least.”
“Is there a new book of The Fabulous Adventures of Prewett Nicholas yet? They kinda jumped the shark in book four, but I heard really good things about five coming up-”
She shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t know, Michael, I’m not into that nerd shit. I’ll look into it for you.”
I did a little half-smile at her through the glass. “For someone not into that nerd shit, you were sure into- hey!”
Having predicted where I was going with that, she had preemptively hung up her phone.
Can’t hear you, she mouthed through the glass.
I rolled my eyes.
“See you tomorrow?” I asked.
Maybe. She mouthed, Take care.
“Well, well, well,” I drawled in a mock accent, “If it ain’t Nali-”
“If you keep talking like that,” Nalia said, “I will leave you here to rot.”
I sighed, then nodded.
“Sorry about trying to kill you.” I said.
“You aren’t sorry.” Nalia responded dully, looking at me through the glass.
I shrugged. “It was worth a shot. Thanks for healing me, I guess. Why are you here?”
“To tell you what happened.” Nalia replied, “You see, when I said it wasn’t what it looked like, it really wasn’t what it looked like.”
“You were trying to kill my sister and had already wounded her.” I remarked, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“She’s not your sister anymore.” Nalia sighed, “She’s…Vincent’s taken control of her body. That’s why she disappeared. And she was there to- to try and unseal Vincent. And I was there to stop her-”
“Would you have killed her?”
“I was trying very hard not to.”
I growled. “So you’re saying my sister isn’t just being influenced by Vincent, she’s being possessed?”
That would explain that damsel-y moment she had back there. Very unlike her.
“You know what, fuck it. I believe you.” I leaned forward, then continued, “So what’s our next move?”
“Your next move is to stay still. Mine is to continue my search for your siblings.”
“What?” I sputtered, “It was a misunderstandin-”
“Misunderstanding or not,” Nalia continued, “You’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you are rash, impulsive, quick to anger, easy to manipulat-”
“I’ll fucking show you quick to ang-”
“My point exactly!” Nalia interrupted.
Shit, got me there.
“So you’re not going to let me out?” I asked.
“Not until I find your siblings, no.” Nalia replied, sighing, “You’re a danger to yourself and the people of Trine. Until this situation has settled, I think it’s best to keep you under lock and key.”
“The moment I get out of here,” I said, with not a trace of irony, “I am going to punch you in that perfect face.”
Nalia squinted at me. “You do realize that’s just giving me more reason to keep you locked up, right?”
I shrugged. “I speak my mind. You have a really pretty, punchable face. You look good covered in blood.”
“What are you, Lockheart?”
“You liked it, too.”
Nalia sighed in exasperation. “You’re staying here. I’ll get you some more comfortable accommodations for the time being, but I am not letting you out until I’m sure it’s safe.”
“That’s a relief, I guess.” I sighed, “Thank you for your leniency, your highness.”
“My job as Prince is to serve my people. As reckless and stupid and violent as you are, you’re included under that umbrella.”
“One more thing,” I said, “I know you can’t give Murzim back but…can you at least give me my Lockheart pendant back? My mother gave it to me. It’s really important to me.”
Nalia sighed. “Normally allowing chains and such is a violation of policy, but…I’ll see what I can do. Just don’t break out with it, okay?”
I nodded. “Of course not. I’d never dream of breaking out of here.”