Homelands Pt. 05 Ch. 05byjdnunyer©
"Four-three-seven-two," Veronica called out from somewhere behind him. Then a gentle pop filled the air, as if his sister had slapped a palm over her open mouth.
"Vee," their grandmother said.
"Sorry, Grams," Veronica said.
Nick's cheeks burned. He hated that Veronica was watching him make a fool of himself. And hated it more that she must have been starting to look at him like a newborn kitten.
"I'll get it," Nick said. "Just give me some time."
"We may not have much time," his grandmother said.
Nick drew a deep breath. She was right. He knew she was. But it wasn't easy to hear. Hard as it was to concentrate already, it only got worse when he thought about what Patty might be going through, or what would happen if the king's forces descended upon their cabin while they were all distracted.
"So why can't you help us find her?" Nick said.
"I told you," his grandmother replied . "I might be a more experienced bloodhound, but you're the one who knows what she smells like."
She had indeed told him that before. But he couldn't help feeling like it was just an excuse to make him learn faster.
"I could give it a try," Veronica said.
"That's sweet of you, dear," their grandmother said, sounding as though she found it less than endearing. "But your brother's the one with the talent for reading Libidos."
"Okay," he said. "Let me know when Vee's in position again."
For a few seconds, his hearing was cut off as well. That was just another one of the things his grandmother could do without any apparent effort. There had to be limits to what she could do, but Nick had no idea what those might be.
When his hearing came back, his grandmother said, "And again."
The further away he was from his sister, the harder it was to sense her Libido. But it was clear that walking around while searching for her wasn't going to work. So Nick stood perfectly still and focused all his effort on scanning for some trace of his sister's energy.
Just as his grandmother started to ask a question, he felt it. It was faint, but it was there, and unmistakably Veronica.
"Got it," he said, and pointed his finger in the direction of his sister.
Nick walked slowly towards her, allowing himself a few brief sweeps to ensure that he didn't trip on anything or walk into any trees. As he did, he felt the steady hum of his sister's Libido grow stronger and stronger.
And then he fell flat on his back as his sister crashed into him.
"Well done," his grandmother said, laughing.
In between kisses, his sister said, "I knew you could do it."
"Let's try it with a little more distance," his grandmother said. "Ready?"
Nick fought off the urge to groan in protest.
"Not yet," Veronica said. She kissed him again. A few times. "Okay, now I am."
The world grew a little colder and a little sadder as his sister climbed off him.
Again, the world went completely quiet. And not just for a few seconds either. By Nick's count, it was close to five minutes before his grandmother lifted the curtain of silence.
"Here we go, kiddo. Get this one, and you just might be blah blah blah."
His grandmother had probably actually finished the sentence with something coherent. But he couldn't have said what, as he'd stopped listening. Stopped receiving all the stimuli from his five senses. Nick existed only on a higher level, no matter that he was anchored within a bag of flesh and blood.
His sister's Libido was calling out to him. As it always did. He had but to listen for it.
"She's not on the island," he said after a few minutes.
"Oh? Are you sure about that?"
"She's in Summer. But not here." He paused, waiting for a reaction. None came. This last part he wasn't sure about, but he said it anyway. "She's on the Moody family island."
"Let's see about that," his grandmother said, slipping her hand in his.
Without covering the ground between them, Nick stepped from one island to another. Suddenly, instead of damp grass, he felt warm sand beneath his feet.
"Already?" Veronica said with a giggle. "That was quick!"
"I get that a lot, unfortunately," Nick said.
His grandmother snickered to herself as she removed his blindfold.
They stood on the same stretch of shoreline that had first welcomed him and his sister to Summer, less than two days ago. Two days, yet so much had changed.
"Should we try a few more times, just to be sure?" he asked.
"Ideally, yes, we'd practice more," his grandmother said. "A lot more. But time ain't exactly on our side. And you seem to be picking it up now."
Nick looked a question at Veronica.
She came and pressed herself against his chest, wrapping her arms around him.
"Best of luck, then," their grandmother said.
"Wait, that's it?" Nick asked. "You're leaving us?"
"Someone's got to be ready to defend that cabin, and those inside it. Or have you forgotten that we're no longer a neutral party in the king's eyes?"
"No, I know, I just," Nick began. But he never finished. He didn't know what to say.
"We'll see each other again soon," Grandma Flori said. "I look forward to you reintroducing me to Patty. It's been so long since I've seen her, I don't know that I'd recognize her. Lord knows, she wouldn't recognize me."
"Be safe," Nick said.
"Oh, you don't need to worry about me," she said. "It's that king of ours you should be worried about. Or whatever poor souls he sends to hurt my loved ones."
Then she kissed each of them on the cheek, waved goodbye, and disappeared.
"I almost do feel bad for whoever goes up against her," Nick said.
His sister smiled at him. "You should have heard some of the stories she told while you were convalescing. Wouldn't surprise me if the king decided to leave her be after all."
"He's scared of her," Veronica said. "And well he should be."
"Here it is," Kurt said, pointing to the markings on the walls of the houses at either edge of the street. "Three spears and a pair of wings, just like the guy said."
"Great," Patty said. "And it only took an hour."
Kurt stopped and turned to face his cousin. With a faint smile, he brushed a lock of hair back from her face. Even when she was moping, she was cute as could be.
"I know. I promised," he said. "But we haven't even made it to my grandfather's yet. And we're almost there now. So can we please, please, pretty please, have twenty more minutes? No more, I swear."
Patty stared down at her feet. "I guess so."
"You're the best," Kurt said, before planting a kiss on the tip of her button nose.
"But he better not be as rude as the rest of them," she mumbled, almost incoherently.
Kurt pretended not to have heard.
His cousin wasn't wrong about the sunlit folk they'd met so far, though. They treated him fine, sure, but they seemed to be insulted if Patty so much as looked them in the eye. Or didn't fall to her knees in adoration. At first, he'd taken that for sexism. But the women were all like that too. And then he noticed that the few other "lesser immortals" that walked the streets of Solopolis did indeed treat anyone with golden skin as if they were deities. He wasn't sure how he'd have felt about that if he'd been alone. Disgusted, hopefully.
Though he couldn't deny that he found it a bit intoxicating as well. Like he'd finally discovered some secret about himself that made him special. He was one of them. The beautiful sunlit gods and goddesses who'd inspired beliefs in heaven and angels. The original immortals. It didn't matter that he only had a little more of their blood in him than the other immortals did. That was enough to make him different.
But the idea of expecting other immortals to bow down to him struck him as incredibly obnoxious. He liked the idea of being connected to something greater. But he didn't like the way his people behaved towards everyone else.
At least, he wanted to believe that he didn't.
Taking his cousin by the hand, Kurt led Patty down the street. Like all the sideways and byways, it was paved with marble. That was good. Kurt didn't think he'd ever quite get used to the sound footsteps made on streets of pure gold.
They stopped in front of the fifth house on the right.
It looked identical to every other building on the street. Or any of the ones in the outermost ring of the city, for that matter.
That was to be expected, of course. They'd quickly learned that it was only when you got closer to the center of the city that any sign of individualization could be found, either among the buildings or the people themselves. And, even there, few people chose to differentiate themselves from their peers.
They were all quite distinguishable from those who lived in the outer rings, though. And not just because they were taller, closer still to physical perfection, and had halos. Though those things were hard not to notice. It was other things too. The higher status sunlit folk never traveled anywhere on foot. They flew on wings of white feather or pure light. They rode about in a golden chariot or on the back of a pegasus. They also wore a whole lot more gold. Their belts were often paired with sashes or vests or stoles that were also woven from cloth-of-gold. They wore solid gold rings, necklaces, ankle bracelets, bits of armor, diadems, and earrings. Many of them carried weapons, of which there appeared to be but three acceptable choices: the stereotypical flaming sword, an ivory bow coupled with quiver full of golden arrows, or a white spear with a broad golden head.
He'd heard tell that some of the oldest among the sunlit folk didn't even wear bodies of flesh and blood. They could choose to take on human shapes if they wanted, but they'd long since become beings of pure energy. Allegedly. None of the residents of Solopolis they'd spoken to seemed to know whether that was true or not, seing as none of them were allowed to enter the innermost rings of the city.
This far out, the sunlit folk looked a lot like the people of Summer. Relatively tall and unnaturally beautiful, but nearly human. Except, of course, that they all had golden skin.
As did Kurt, now.
It was like returning to his ancestral homeland had awakened something inside him. Brought out his inner angel or something.
Kurt raised his fist and rapped on the golden door, hoping that the man who answered proved to be just a little bit more normal than the rest of the people here.
To his surprise, his mother answered the door.
"Mom? What are you-"
Before he knew it, she was hugging him so tight he couldn't breathe.
And when she let him go, Olivia appeared and all but tackled him to the ground as she leapt into a hug.
Needless to say, twenty minutes came and went without him once acknowledging that he and Patty were supposed to revisit the decision of whether to return to Summer. She let him know it too, though she wasn't overbearing about it. Just gave him subtle, imploring looks now and then or glanced at her wrist pointedly.
Kurt totally understood where she was coming from. He'd already broken his promise once. On principle alone, he was clearly in the wrong. As if that wasn't enough, his grandfather was unfortunately proving to be very much like the other sunlit folk they'd met. He didn't quite seem to understand why his daughter had ever married a "lesser immortal" and so was having a hard time commiserating with her loss. He didn't approve of Olivia's piercings and tattoos, nor of Kurt's posture or haircut. Even when his daughter was between bouts of crying, he'd make a point of telling her what a poor job she'd done raising her children. And he hardly spoke to Patty at all.
Of course, that was probably just as well, because when he did, it made Kurt wish that hadn't. It was like he was speaking to a child. One with poor manners, at that.
Still, his cousin had to understand why he hadn't pulled himself away from the kitchen table yet. She just had to.
He hadn't expected his mother and sister to be here. Nor for his father to be dead.
Patty hadn't taken the news well either. And she'd been quick to comfort him. Or try to. His mother and his sister didn't really leave much room for her to do so. But she'd never been too close to his father. The whole situation was making her uncomfortable too. If she felt the need to mourn her Uncle Wes further, she'd probably prefer to do so in private. Or at least out of view of Kurt's grandfather.
When his mother started dropping hints that what she really needed was to take her mind off it entirely, and that there was only one surefire way to do that, Kurt finally asked everyone to excuse him and Patty.
"No son of mine would so blatantly disregard his mother's needs," Kurt's grandfather muttered. "Sounds to me like this late husband of yours did you no favors."
"Daddy, please," his mother replied. "Can we do this later?"
Patty gave Kurt her best "Are you fucking kidding me?" look as they headed out the back door. No words could convey her sentiment more clearly than that expression.
"I'm sorry," he said, as soon as they got outside.
Patty paced around the tiny garden that was his grandfather's backyard. She stopped to smell the exotic flowers and ran her fingers along the gilded trellis and dipped her toe in the tranquil little pond. But she didn't speak.
Kurt came and stood beside her at the edge of the pond. Much as he wanted to put his arm around her, he knew that such a gesture would not be welcome at just that moment.
"Look at that frog," he said. "White, with flecks of gold. Figures, huh?"
His cousin gave him a flat stare.
Part of him was tempted to play the "my father just died" card, but he knew that had already done as much good for him as it was going to. Besides, he wasn't sure that he'd want to go back inside that house either, if he were Patty. He could only expect so much from her after what his grandfather had just put her through. Nor did it help anything that his mother and sister were also behaving as if she didn't exist.
"Don't take this the wrong way," she said at last, "but your grandfather is an ass."
"No argument here," he said.
"And though I can't blame your mother or Liv for behaving the way they are, after what they just went through, they're not exactly making me feel welcome either."
She took his hand in hers. "So you know what I'm going to say next, right?" Before he could answer, she asked, "Can you blame me?"
"Not one bit," Kurt said.
"But you're going to stay."
They'd run away so they could be together. Had it really come to this? It seemed so senseless. Especially since his father would still be alive if they'd never done so.
Kurt felt like he might retch.
"At least for a little while, yeah," he said, speaking slowly. He felt weightless. Almost like he wasn't really there. "I kinda feel like I have to, you know?"
"Yeah," Patty said. "I understand." She gave his hand a good squeeze. "We didn't really think this through, did we?"
Kurt laughed awkwardly at that. "I think that `we' is mostly `me', but I appreciate you pretending otherwise." Then, in a softer voice, he said, "I'm sorry. About everything."
"I'll see you again soon?"
"For you, maybe," she said. "Time flows a lot faster in Summer than it does here."
"Yeah," he said. "Though that also means that I can visit for a long time, when I do come back, and they'll hardly even miss me here."
"Well, that's something," she said.
Neither of them commented on the fact that he'd just implicitly admitted that when he returned to Summer, it wouldn't be for good.
Turned out, they didn't even get a chance to discuss how to proceed.
There was a loud thud and then suddenly the front door was flying across the living room. At the same time, the window shattered into a million pieces, as did the sliding glass door that let out onto the back porch. Before Eric even came out of his reflexive crouch, he noticed that there were three Phils in the room.
When he'd first met him, Eric had not found the king to be all that impressive. He was relatively short, fairly modest in build, and no more handsome than any of their kind. Less so than most, really. Hardly what you expected from the man in charge.
Yet, just at that moment, he seemed about as fearsome and terrible as Eric could imagine.
One of the three Phils carried the thing Nina had referred to as a bardiche. Eric hadn't quite been able to picture it in his mind, but now that he laid eyes on it, he saw why his aunt's had spoken of it with such awe. The thing looked suitable for chopping down trees. If by "trees" you meant "skyscrapers." Another carried a length of spiked chain that belonged in a horror movie. The third had stone fists the size of watermelons.
It took him all of a moment to notice those things. But that was a moment that would have certainly cost him his life, if not for Aunt Nina.
The spiked chain was rushing towards his mother and the bardiche cutting a wide arc towards him and a stony fist headed for Nina's face when the beach house faded away.
"That was close," Eric said.
"Gotta work on your reaction time, kiddo," his aunt said. "We all get caught off guard from time to time. But those who panic rarely live to tell the tale."
"I can see that," he said. "Probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had to retreat there either. If I were the king, that'd be one of the first places I'd check too."
"True enough, but it wouldn't have-" Nina began.
"Where are we now?" his mother interjected.
Nina looked over at Gabby. "Back on the main island."
"Really? Is that wise?"
"Maybe," Nina replied. "Maybe not. But he's going to be joining us again soon, and would be no matter where I took us."
"What makes you say that?" Eric asked.
"He can track me," she said. "We've been intimate together. More than a few times."
"Why didn't you mention that earlier?" Gabby asked.
"In between the seventeen times you all told me to shut up, you mean?"
"Well, if you'd mentioned that, we-"
Nina cut her off with an upraised hand. "Look, we haven't got much time. So let's use it wisely. I've got a plan. Not a good one, but it's a plan."
Eric and his mother listened carefully while Nina explained what she had in mind. As she'd implied, it wasn't much. But even so, she'd probably overstated it. Though he was no tactician, Eric thought it sounded more like a foundation on which you might build a plan than a plan itself.
Nina was to act as bait. When the king showed up, she would take off, and Eric and Gabby would try to pick off one of his three clones, if he was still traveling in triplicate. If not, they'd give chase to the one true king.
Before they could point out how underdeveloped the "plan" was, the king showed up. All three of him.
When Nina bounded off, the one with the spiked chain ran after her. The other two immediately spotted Eric and his mother, despite the fact that they'd been hiding behind a bush. The two kings came at him and Gabby from different directions.
"Split up," Eric said.
He didn't like that idea, but getting attacked from both sides didn't appeal to him very much. The pincer attack hadn't worked out so well for him and Nina earlier, but something told him that the king would put it to better use than they had.
Before his mother could object, Eric made a break for it.
The sky crackled with electricity as Gabby hurled lightning at her Phil.
After a dozen paces, Eric turned to make his stand. And found that the king was already almost upon him. He barely got his sword in position in time to block the king's opening attack. Fortunately, though, he still managed to sweep it aside.
Phil was faster than Eric was. But his weapon wasn't designed for fighting in close quarters. Neither was Eric's, for that matter, but his sword was less ill-suited to the task than the king's pole-arm. If Phil had been the one wielding a sword and Eric a bardiche, the fight probably wouldn't have lasted but a few moments. As it was, he didn't see himself as being at any real advantage. Just reasonably well positioned to keep Phil at bay for a few crucial moments while he tried to figure out what to do.