Chapter 22: Gold, Part IV

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 493

"Well hello there!" he called, and there was something in his words that made Kyrene laugh, the sound suppressed by tightening her lips together. It was barely a giggle, but something about it struck curiosity into Lance. As if they were supposed to keep this quiet. Secretive.

He walked with the two as they came a few feet away from the stall's counter. With a kinder smile crinkling his eyes, the shopkeeper focused on Zidane, leaning forward with his hand cupping his cheek, his elbow resting on the counter.

"Can I interest you in a bag, young man?"

Zidane shook his head, and although the action was defiant, Lance could feel a shy smile on his face.

"Ah, you'll come around to it," the owner continued, drawing himself upright. "Maybe when your sister gets older."

His smile suddenly faded, leaning over the counter to quickly peer out at the street and the stalls surrounding them. After a moment, he lifted a hand, fingers closing together. It felt as if Lance had been standing behind curtains, thin veils suddenly swooping shut. When he looked back, his sight was darkened by exactly that.

"Cloaking spell," Zidane whispered to him. "Normally it's invisible to everyone, but I'm showing you something to let us know we're hidden."

Cloaking? Lance returned, but the thought was only a blip of an idea. His focus was captured by the shopkeep. He had moved over to the left side of the counter and opened a half-door. It was released upon Kyrene and Zidane fully stepping into the store's inside. At the thought of wanting to be in there as well, Lance found himself on the other side of the counter, standing close behind.

The store owner was talking, making casual conversation as he strode past them.

"How is Adelah, by the way?" he asked, picking up where they left off. "Seems like it's been a while since I've seen her."

"She's fine," Kyrene said, eyes lightening. "Growing up very quickly, but perfectly fine." Looking at Zidane, she gave a smile. He returned it, the motion slight and marked with something Lance could only translate as discomfort.

The shopkeep nodded at her reply, continuing to look at the ground below his feet. He swept a foot past it, and then as if the slight collection of dust was all that was needed, he stepped away, one hand extended towards it in polite offering.

"Patients first."

Lance found himself in a wide room, a table and a counter opposite of him. The walls of this room were made of earth, and despite the fact that he could see perfectly fine, there seemed to be no direct source of light. A large hole to his left suddenly grabbed his focus. A quick sound of something rushing past dirt, and Zidane stopped at the edge of the tunnel, rising from a seating position and stepping away, making his way to the table. There was something of confidence in his steps; as if he had done this many times before. Lance's focus was taken as Kyrene slid into view, standing up to brush the back of her legs.

Kyrene took a few steps towards the table as well, smiling at Zidane as the shopkeeper entered. He drifted upright immediately, gliding with the momentum created from the tunnel. Lance blinked; he was much taller than he had been before. Lance straightened his own posture, sizing up the Spiro. Yeah; at least eight feet.

But could he even be called a Spiro anymore? Not only were his body proportions longer, he possessed no tail, either. Lance nearly made a comparison to Zidane when his focus was taken by the shopkeep's ears. Their tips lengthened, thinning to a razor-sharp point near the crown. Bits of light-colored skin began to flake off, giving way to a much darker shade. Lance felt his stomach grow weak, a sickening weight sitting against it.

"You were warned and you still have no idea!"

His eyes shut, trying to rid the voice from his mind. He was okay, or as okay as he could be, being in someone else's mind.

That's right, he told himself. Just gotta focus on the present moment.

Hearing a murmured voice, he looked up, seeing the shopkeep stride around to the table. Completely changed; the only way Lance recognized him is through the long hairstyle. And even then, the coloring was inverted from white to black.

Lance quickly looked over the dark-skinned person in front of him, a man busy telling Zidane how big he was as he set the grinning crossbreed onto the table. Lance's brain began working, trying to figure out what had just happened.

"You need some help?"

He looked over at Zidane, hands sliding into the pocket of his hoodie as he nodded, a smile breaking onto his face. "Yeah," he said.

Zidane nodded. "So Yittek is basically the equivalent of an African Razalek," he began, lifting a palm up while one fist propped his chin. A position, Lance noticed, that nearly mirrored his mother behind him. "Way back when Razaleks and Spiros lived with humans, some Razaleks on the west hemisphere began to get a darker pigmentation."

"So they became African," Lance interjected with a nod. "Okay, I got it. Why the peeling off part?" The memory tried to resurface again, a dark fear welling up inside Lance's chest, threatening to spill over into panic again. He blinked, concealing the emotion away, and watched Zidane shrug.

"It's a way of teleportation and de-cloaking, or removing a cloak."

"You mentioned that before."

Zidane nodded. "Yeah. Cloaking is concealing something with another thing. It's tricking the mind—any mind, human, Spiro, or Razalek—into experiencing things that aren't there."

"So in this case, white skin instead of black."

"Yeah, that's right," Zidane replied with another nod. "There's also sparking, which is planting thoughts into a mind, and surfacing, which is simply having a mind experience one single thing that's not there."

"So surfacing is single and cloaking deals with one or more?"

"Sure, you could look at it that way."

"And they do this with the energy they get with food?"

Maybe it was the disbelieving tone, but Zidane grinned, laughing faintly. "You can ask him all about it when you meet him. I'll take him to you in a few days, okay?"

"Why?" Lance asked, surprised.

"He knows about this stuff more than I do," Zidane said, and his eyes went dark. "I mean, I know my way around the Spiro body, but Yittek can get into it at a cellular level. He can help you out more than I can."

"We just have to get to him first."

Zidane nodded, and Lance lightly shook his head, wondering how he can still be believing this. But here he was, in a crossbreed's mind...

"You positive you don't wanna know about Razalek history?" Zidane was saying. "It's some pretty fascinating stuff."

Lance paused, shifting his stare over Yittek as the curiosity grew. "Why the security?" he asked, remembering the loud comment Yittek had made upon first seeing Kyrene and Zidane. Like he was blowing some big secret by speaking so loud.

"So a few thousand years ago, after the war came to a stalemate, both races went underground in an act history refers to as The Burrowing. In order to 'cleanse the past' and wipe all evidence they ever lived with humans, Razaleks began slaughtering those with darker skin colors 'cause of the pigmentation. Nearly got everyone, too, but the ones that did survive went to the Fires—a part of the inner-world that's inhabited by Spiros and Razaleks who don't agree with what their government's doing. Both races separated, of course. Here, Razaleks began injecting pigmentation into newborns, scientifically re-creating the darker skin color as a sign of protest."

Okay, Lance had to admit that was pretty fascinating. He stuffed down his excitement, shifting his weight to one side as he looked over to the shopkeep, Yittek.

"So he's hiding from Spiros? Why them, why not his own kind?"

Hand raising to the back of his head, Zidane held in an obvious breath before releasing it. "Very long story. It's probably not something we should get into now. It'd kill the mood." A hand waved in front of him, one stroke as if trying to wipe the subject away. "Just know he's not like his own kind."

Lance held the inside of his cheek in between his teeth, keeping himself from speaking as he looked back to Yittek. The sight of a Razalek was odd; their body proportions something he wasn't used to seeing. He was about to voice these thoughts when he realized this sight wasn't entirely new to him. He remembered those ears, tapering to such thin, sharp points that they could be used as blades if they actually reached past the crown of the head.

He shook off the notion with a cold chill down his back, focusing on what was in front of him. Zidane had continued on with the memory, the start of it slow-downed slightly, as if he was helping Lance get back into the scene.

Yittek's hand continued with its path towards Zidane's face, the crossbreed's mouth opening, tongue out and head tilted at a high enough angle for him to see. It was with this motion that a routine seem to set in. They followed one another; Yittek's attention moving to some part of Zidane's body—extending a limb or tapping at a muscle Lance didn't recognize. Each action was met with mild interest, sights that had become second nature by now. Slight pity touched Lance's chest as he realized things like this were probably the crossbreed's whole life. People checking up on him, studying, tracking. Trying to make his entire existence a little less painful.

His attention went to Kyrene, standing behind the table and watching the process, expression something he couldn't read.

"Are the incidents getting worse?" Yittek asked, kind voice vibrating through the dirt room.

Kyrene looked to him, head tilting silently as if to ask which incident he was referring to. The Razalek only met her stare as he lifted the hair covering Zidane's ears, gently pinching a mutated, tear-drop shape tip. A wince came against Zidane's mouth and realization came to Kyrene, dimming her eyes and dropping them to the floor.

"Every approach I try to think of is useless," she said. With a muffled sigh moving through her, she looked to her son. "There seems to be no way around them."

Zidane's eyes lowered at this statement, their color darkening. A moment later, the memory paused and Zidane let out a forced laugh.

"I almost forgot about this part," he told Lance. His legs drew inwards from their dangling position, crossing and folding together in a more comfortable way. He shifted a little, hand rising to scratch the back of his head as he started explaining. "Put it simply, everybody aside from the people in this room"—A finger twirled in a circle, motioning to those around them—"Absolutely hated me. You saw a bit of that when we were walking here, the stares and everything. They disliked me so much to the point that, if they couldn't get rid of me permanently, thanks to Yittek, then they took every chance to let out their aggression."

Shrugging, he added, "I mean, most of the time it was pretty grade school stuff with kids around my age, but the more that joined in, the more colorful my face got." A weak laugh cracked out of his lips. "I think the worst part of it was the aftermath of it, though."

A silence settled between them.

"There wasn't anything you could do about it?" Lance asked, remember the conversation he had just heard between Kyrene and Yittek.

Zidane shook his head. "One of our first ideas, back when it started, was to influence their thoughts. Make them think that, for whatever reason, they were just supposed to leave me alone. But then we realized it wouldn't work. We couldn't influence everybody at once, and having only a few people changed would go against the norm of things. Others would get suspicious of a possible Razalek somewhere close by, possibly working with the family of the..." His hand flourished upwards before dropping against his leg. "Whatever you wanna call me."

Lance listened as Zidane's voice faded into room's silence, an apology at the edge of his mouth. But he kept it away, kept the feeling silent. All of this was just a memory, something that had already happened. Nothing he said could change any of it.

His surroundings changed, becoming the inside of a house. He stood on the outskirts of a kitchen, a low table a few feet away. Behind it was a hose with a large bowl beneath it. Aside from these three simple things, the room was empty.

Catching a change in the environment, Lance turned to the room's only window, seeing Kyrene and someone next to her fade in. He only had time to register the long dark hair and the fact she was sitting on her knees before Zidane faded in. He sat below the window, next to Kyrene and across from the girl. It was here that the memory began.

The girl touched Zidane's face, barely seeming to make contact with her fingers before the crossbreed recoiled from her touch.

"That hurts!" he cried.

"Well, maybe if you weren't such a big baby it would hurt less!"

"Adelah." Kyrene's voice was sharp; a swift tone only a mother could use.

The girl sunk back onto her heels, the movement bringing Lance's focus to the long tips of her ears sticking out from her hair.

"It's still true," she mumbled.

Noticing a change in color, Lance turned his focus to Zidane's face. It was a sight he hadn't seen before, and the realization that upon the memory's start, the features of Zidane's face had been almost non-existent, as if Lance were in a dream, flashed through his mind. The shock died down, repulsion taking its place as he looked at the bruises. Clouds of green and purple decorated Zidane's skin, occasionally fading to black. Lance noticed the few bits of skin that had been chipped away, revealing a raw layer of scarlet skin.

Blood spilled from a cut on Zidane's forehead, falling down only to be caught by his brow. Adelah leaned forward, sweeping the trail away with a thin cloth. She blotched it up, attention seeming to be halfway there, as Lance tried to act natural—act like this wasn't getting to him. But it was; it hurt, seeing someone so young be treated this way. Become this beaten up... For what he was.

He found himself wishing. Wanting to go back, somehow change this from happening. He just wanted to leap back in time, but with a horrible twist to his stomach, he was reminded of the solitary—the finality—of every second.

So he kept his stare low, some part of him watching how Adelah pulled the cloth away and folded it again, allowing a clean space for more care. He studied how Zidane looked at her with one half-closed eye; the only eye that wasn't completely swollen shut. And the space that did reveal his iris... It was a color Lance couldn't translate into an emotion. It was almost dark enough to match the galaxy-like bruises on his skin.

Kyrene lightly cleared her throat, shifting on her heels. "How's your nose, Nachi?"

Zidane was silent, for a moment or two, a wince coming to him upon the wet cloth's contact. That half-swollen eye closed. "Doesn't hurt," he said.

Kyrene nodded, wringing her hands together in her lap. Zidane's voice came to Lance's mind, words spoken in a mixture of past and present.

"They'd broken my nose this time. Mom had to set it."

Fighting back the tightness in his throat, Lance slipped his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. His fingers clawed themselves into fists, and he wished his nails were longer. He wanted to feel some kind of pain; something to let Zidane know he wasn't alone.

No kid should have to go through this...

He swallowed back the tightness in his throat.

Please let this get better, he thought, closing his eyes. Just let there be something.

Intuition opened his eyes; a light, sparkling feeling somewhere inside his chest. His eyes opened again, dragging up from the floor to see Kyrene's hand moving away from her lap. With a serene gentleness, her fingers grazed along the back of his palm, partially covering the Razalek marking. A symbol that was heavily cut and bruised, as if trying to be redrawn and erased.

Lance tried to focus on the way Kyrene's thumb slid along the back of his hand. He tried to focus on the sheer honor in the gesture; a complete love that made the small amount of color in Zidane's eye grow a bit brighter.

"There's always a silver-lining, Lance," Zidane said, teenage voice barely hiding a smile. "I need you to remember that, okay?"

The sound of glass tinkling moved Lance's focus, to the window behind them. Hanging proudly, reflecting an entire spectrum of color, was the wind chime.

Submitted: November 18, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Meaghan Kalena. All rights reserved.


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