March 23rd, Year P-132.
The Inter-Colony Highway.
“Richter,” Aiko asked me, “What happened to your mother?”
Michael, my younger brother, had fallen asleep in the back of the car. We had been on the highway for a while now, long enough that day had turned into night. The road was dark, surrounded by endless thickets of forest, and the passing lights of other cars created a cloudy, dreamy atmosphere.
Aiko was to my left, in the driver’s seat. I was in the passenger’s seat, leaning my right arm out of the window, watching the night as we drove by.
“He didn’t tell you?” I asked.
Aiko shook her head. “No. I know she died, but…he never told me exactly how. Or why he blames your dad. I figured back then, I know what I need to know, so I won’t pry, but…”
“But you feel like that information might be important now.” I finished.
“Yeah.” she said.
“It’s…” I sighed, shut my eyes, “It’s not a particularly long story. It could’ve happened to anyone, honestly.”
“What was it?” she asked.
“A car accident.” I replied, “She wasn’t…attacked by some monster, or struck by lightning, or anything like that. She went out for a drive, the car flipped over…and the rest is history.”
“That would explain why I had to talk him into driving with me.” she replied, “I’m sorry that happened to you. Why does he blame your father?”
“If Dad had been there,” I explained, “He would’ve been able to save her. Dad is fast, and I mean fast, and it is pretty much impossible to take him off guard. In battle, Mom could almost track something as fast as he is, but it took a lot out of her. So her senses weren’t always that wildly-attuned. If he had been with her, he could’ve pulled them both out of the car the moment the tires left the ground.”
Aiko nodded. “Why wasn’t he there that day?”
“It was…” I sighed, “According to Michelle, it was just a bad day. Dad got paranoid that something or another might be happening with Max or Skell or someone from back then, so he did that thing he did where he bolted for a few days just to make sure we were all safe. The reason she was on the road at all was because…well…”
Aiko raised an eyebrow.
“Because?” she pressed.
“Her and Michael had gotten into an argument.” I replied, keeping my eyes closed, “According to Michelle, it was…Michael was pissed that Dad was paranoid, that he wouldn’t ‘let it go’. He was tired of Dad leaving whenever he wanted, and he was tired of Mom letting Dad do it. Mom was feeling stressed out too, so it just…it turned into a whole mess. She left to get some air.”
“And she never came back.” Aiko realized, “So the last conversation he had with her was-”
“A fight, yes.” I looked back at Michael in the back seat, still in his prison jumpsuit, but snoring and sleeping as peacefully as I’d ever seen him.
“It’s not just Dad he blames,” I explained, “He blames himself, too. I just don’t think he knows it. He’s taken…he’s taken all this anger and put it into Dad, and Dad just takes it because Dad feels like he deserves it, too.”
Aiko sighed. “Wow, that is…a really sad story. How do you handle it?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your mom…passing.” Aiko elaborated.
I sighed. “It was a long time ago,” I replied, “I’ve made peace with it. But I took most of her vinyls with me when I became CO of the Royal Guard, so I’d have something to listen to when I worked. So I’d always have a piece of her with me. If you’ve ever wondered where me and Michael get the music from…it’s her.”
“So you two got the music.” Aiko said, “That makes sense. Never saw Michelle jam out too much, though. Is there anything Michelle got from her?”
I chuckled, thinking of my older sister.
“She got the bossiness, for damn sure.” I quipped, “The knives, too…Mom and Grandpa went hunting a lot, and she used both Tsukimono and Diarmuid back then. When Michelle was old enough, Mom passed down the knives to her.”
“Is that it?”
“No.” I replied, “She got a lot more. All the…all the books, and the birds, and the reptiles. Those were things Mom was into. Mom was…about a thousand times more nurturing, but Michelle had it, too, she just hid it. They both wanted you to be the best you could be, but Michelle was…less prone to sugarcoating. Mom would take her time with you, Michelle would kick your ass.”
I chuckled and blinked a tear out of my eye.
“Shit.” I whispered, “I miss her so much.”
“Michelle, or Saiten?” Aiko asked.
“Both of them.” I admitted, “I don’t think…I don’t think I could lose someone again. Not like that.”
Aiko reached over to pat me on the back. “Listen.” she said, left hand still on the wheel, “Look at me, Richter.”
I looked at Aiko. Her electric blue eyes stared back into mine with earnesty and determination. “We’ll find her.” Aiko said, “I promise. Two Lockhearts and a Lane. The world doesn’t stand a chance.”
I chuckled at that. “That sounds less like the inspiring team-up you seem to think it is and more like a disaster waiting to happen.”
Aiko rolled her eyes.
“You two are already a disaster.” Aiko retorted, “I’m just here to steer you in the right direction.”
I smiled and turned back to look at Michael. His peaceful sleep face was starting to slowly turn into his disgruntled sleep face, which I imagined meant he would be waking up hungry soon.
“Pull into this next exit,” I said, “We should get some food before the heat picks up.”
Season One: Recursion
Episode Twenty, Side A: Tsukimono
March 24th, Year P-132.
The Inter-Colony Highway.
Michael groaned loudly from the back seat.
“How long are we going to be on the road?” he whined, “I’m okay, but I’m still so sore…”
Aiko rolled her eyes. “Thought you liked going fast?” she shot back.
“Yes,” Michael replied, “Light-fast. Me-fast. My dad-fast. Not…car-fast. You could go twice the speed limit and this would still be so slooooooooooow…”
“Stop being dramatic, Michael.” I shot back, “We’ll get there soon. We’ve barely been driving for twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours!?” my brother exclaimed, “How long was I out!?”
“About seven or so before we stopped for food,” Aiko replied, “Then about three more after that. You’ve really only been awake for two hours back there, you realize that, right?”
Michael groaned. “Why are cars so slow?”
“Because not everybody can accelerate to the speed of a Lightning bolt,” I retorted, “And even if you were to do that, you’d undoubtedly set off all kinds of sensors looking for exactly your level of speed. Sometimes, the best run feels a little more like a walk.”
Michael sighed. “Where are we headed, anyways?”
“A safehouse,” I replied, “Dion and Dad will be there.”
Michael looked about ready to leap out of the car. As it was, we were in a convertible with the top down, so there weren’t exactly any physical barriers in the way of stopping him. He turned to the right and his eyes wandered as he considered it.
After a few moments, he closed his eyes and sighed. “Fine. I’m gonna kick his ass, though.”
December 17th, Year P-118.
The Lockheart Residence in the White Mountains.
I knocked on the door to my childhood home. Having heard what happened yesterday, I took a break from my Royal Guard training to come back home and make sure my siblings were okay.
My grandfather, Stane Lockheart, opened the door. He looked down at me and sighed, “Richter…”
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Out.” Stane replied, “Michelle took Michael to eat. Had to walk him there because he refuses to go near any cars. Why are you back here?”
“Mom died.” I replied, “Why wouldn’t I come?”
“You have to finish your training.” Stane responded firmly, “You can’t let tragedy derail y-”
“Don’t give me that shit, old man.” I snarled, “Like you didn’t need a day off after Grandma-”
Stane’s look darkened.
I took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry.” I said, “I miss her, too. I didn’t mean it. Can I come in?”
My grandfather sighed and nodded his head, opening the door.
The living room was a mess. Everything was a mess.
“What happened here?” I asked.
“Michael…” Stane sighed, “Michael got agitated. Don’t worry, the vinyls are safe. Not even he would touch those.”
I walked over to the shelf holding Mom’s book of LPs, pulling out an old favorite and sighing.
“Want to help me get this place cleaned up?” I asked.
My grandfather nodded. “Yeah,” Stane replied, “Let’s get this house back in order.”
I placed the vinyl into the record player on the counter bordering the living room and kitchen, and after a few moments of adjustments, the song started.
March 24th, Year P-132.
The Inter-Colony Highway.
“Haven’t heard this one in a while.” Michael remarked, “You sure wouldn’t be accused of driving too fast, Aiko.”
She scoffed. “If you keep complaining,” she replied, “I’ll stop this car and kick your ass, Mike. You know that I can.”
“You can’t threaten me with a good time.” Michael said, smirking and leaning back into his seat.
She sighed. “You’re lucky I like you, dick. I should’ve left you in that cell.”
“Speaking of,” Michael asked, “How long have you guys been working together?”
“Since I went into hiding.” I replied, “I figured Aiko would be the first person you’d go to for support, especially if you decided to go undercover yourself. I still don’t totally know why you didn’t.”
Michael tilted his head and stared directly into my eyes, blinking slowly as if I were a massive idiot. His mismatched white-amber eyes seemed to express different sides of his complete disbelief at what I had just said.
“…What?” I asked.
Michael sighed. “Aiko, you didn’t-”
“Nope.” Aiko replied.
“Aiko didn’t…” I looked back and forth between the two, waiting for one of them to reply.
“We broke up.” Michael groaned, “Like…a year ago, man. I moped about it for like two months. You seriously didn’t know?”
Okay, a lot of things just started making way more sense.
“My bad.” I said wearily.
Michael sighed. “It’s whatever. No point in brooding on all that shit right now. Only way to go is forward, right?”
Aiko nodded in agreement from the front seat.
“How much longer ‘til we get there?” Michael asked.
“Shouldn’t be any more than another hour.” I replied, “Think you can survive until then?”
My younger brother rolled his eyes. “Yeah,” he replied, leaning back and closing his eyes, “I’ll just get in another nap.”
December 1st, Year P-125.
The Floating Islands, Lamass.
Outside Michelle’s place.
“Mom would be proud of you.” my sister said.
I exhaled a column of smoke from the blunt I’d been smoking, leaning back against the wall of Michelle’s house and sighing. “I’d certainly hope so.” I muttered.
Michelle sighed. “You just got promoted to CO of the Royal Guard. You’ve been working for this since before she died. Why are you so bummed out?”
“It doesn’t change anything.” I whispered, “I’ve done…so much since we lost Mom. And Stane. Tried so hard to live up to this…to this Lockheart name…and I thought it would make me feel better.”
“You thought getting this promotion would help you get over Mom?”
I inhaled again. Past Michelle’s porch, it was snowing. How exactly floating islands got snow instead of just freezing entirely, I didn’t know, but it was nice to watch while I smoked and caught up with my older sister.
After a long silence and another smoky exhale, I nodded. “Yeah. Is that stupid?”
“It’s…” Michelle crossed her arms around her midsection and leaned against the wall beside me, “It’s a start, little brother. It at least means that you aren’t letting grief get you down.”
I snorted. “You’re still calling me little brother? I’m the most powerful person in the world who isn’t a part of the Royal Family. What do I have to do to get rid of that nickname?”
“You’d have to stop being my brother,” Michelle responded, “And unfortunately for you, Richter…you’re kinda stuck with me.”
I groaned as my older sister elbowed my right side.
“I wouldn’t trade you or Michael for anything.” I said, “You’re my family. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Somewhere inside Michelle’s house, I heard the very distinct sound of Michael screaming “FUCK!” and throwing something against the wall.
“Okay,” I corrected, “Maybe a little better.”
We chuckled together.
“How’s he doing?” Richter asked.
“He’s alright.” Michelle replied, “Starting to learn to function. He’s still…recovering from losing Mom and Stane so quickly. Still won’t even talk to me about Grandpa, for some reason…”
Michelle frowned and looked off into the distance. I dropped my blunt and sighed.
“What about you?” I asked, “Weren’t you supposed to be an ornithologist by now?”
Michelle shrugged. “It’s been tough to focus on that, what with making sure that Michael doesn’t grow up into a complete disaster and dealing with my own shit. I’d try to get Dad to take care of it, but Michael would probably just run away or something, and nobody needs that right now.”
I imagined the teenager running around on his own and shuddered. “Yeah, he is not ready for that right now.”
Michelle chuckled. “I miss you, little brother. You could stand to come around more than once a year.”
“It’s not that bad.” I replied, rolling my eyes, “But point taken. Maybe I can reserve us some tickets for Divine Garden. Eventually. Would that make it up to you?”
The Divine Garden Zoo, in Sunder, was pretty much the zoo in Trine. That included a wide collection of…well, just about every bird you could think of, and plenty more that you couldn’t. It was really expensive to get into, but if you had the right connections…it was a dream for anyone in a zoology field. Had some pretty solid restaurants on-site, too.
“Maybe.” my sister replied, still grinning, “If you can make it happen in the next five years, I’ll consider forgiving you.”
While it may sound like my sister was exaggerating here, it ultimately ended up being two. My schedule, and the Divine Garden Zoo’s pricing/reservations, did not fuck around.
“I’m sorry I’m not around as much as I’d like to be.” I said, “I know it’s not easy for you. Or Mike.”
She shrugged and brushed a strand of brown hair out of her face. She turned to face me and grinned. “It’s life, little brother. I don’t hold it against you.”
“I appreciate that.” I said, “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Michelle asked.
“It’s been seven years since Mom died,” I said, watching the snow fall outside, “And I still hate this time of year.”
March 24th, Year P-132.
Michael crashed onto the couch and started stretching out, sighing and moaning after having been confined in a small space for so long. Aiko relaxed in a different chair, watching a news broadcast from Percy Alizarin, who was reporting on our prison break yesterday. Standing in the kitchen, I looked over at Michael and chuckled.
“Liking the couch?” I asked.
“It’s incredible.” my brother groaned, “Thank you so much.”
Our safehouse was a room at what appeared to be an abandoned hotel in Colony 51. Not only was it in proximity to an airport, it was also in proximity to a train station leading pretty much everywhere else on The Mainland, and was almost completely off the radar. I had used it while undercover, and only a few trusted contacts, like Dion or Cyria, were aware of its location.
It was a surprise, then, when I felt a massive surge of Darkness energy and heard a huge crash against the door.
“Let me in!” shouted a familiar voice, “He’s dying!”
Michael was so startled that he fell off the couch.
The woman outside pounded against the door and repeated, “I know you’re in here, jackass! Let me in!”
Moving quickly, I pulled open the door.
My older sister, Michelle Lockheart, entered. Covered in deep wounds through her jacket and across her face, my sister looked like she’d been through Hell and back.
Even worse than her, however, was the person she was holding at her side, by the back of his collar. Bloodied, unconscious and impaled by several, massive white spikes emanating Darkness energy, I had never seen Nalia Cynd in worse shape.
As my sister pulled the prince into our safehouse, I grasped the sides of my head.
“What’s happening!?” I sputtered.
“No time to explain.” Michelle panted, “Get your sword. We can’t pull these things out.”