It was dark. The only light in the sky was the moon, full and staring at Sol somberly, as though it knew of his crime and was trying to reprimand him. Sol knew that this thought was ridiculous, of course. A moon had no feelings nor could it perceive anything in the known world; still, it chilled him.
He felt remorse at first, but it quickly disappeared. He could not believe that he was entirely wrong to leave the house; he was acting on instinct, he wanted to
survive, he was frightened. There were a myriad of excuses and justifications, and this satisfied Sol. He would not allow himself to feel any negative emotions at this time. He was changed. He
couldn’t think the things he would have ordinarily—
He pulled out his key and assessed it as he walked along. He was observant and could walk and examine at the same time, always a talent he had shared with his father. He was mollified by what he saw; his key was something less than human. It was silver and some sort of black metal. The gems were the same, but they were darker somehow, less blue. In the center was the most inhuman thing he had ever seen. Clock cogs. His key was like clockwork, something that was just material and mechanical.
This was who he was now, he could see that. He had to keep moving, but suddenly it was too much for him. He had to sit. He decided that it would be best if he
climbed a tree and so he did that.
Sitting on the branch and leaning against the trunk, he took a deep breath. He thought about all that had happened in one day, and how little time it took for his life to change. He held his face in his hands and began sobbing. Wilden….Naori. Both gone, gone in one day. And his father too.
He had no idea when the tears would subside, but he knew that this would be the last time he would ever cry. He remembered his love and how she was broken, like the key he had mistakenly snapped. How could he have been so reckless? How could he have left Naori like that?
Questions floated across his mind, each touching him delicately as though he might break if he were to think about them for too long. He choked out a sob, but
then quieted himself, for fear of being heard. Perhaps they were out there, still looking for him. He took a minute to compose himself, and finally stood to continue his journey.
The walk was painful for him; the silence was far too much for him. He continued on until night turned to day and he grew exhausted. When he felt that he could go no further, he climbed into a tree and fell promptly asleep.
In his estate, sitting at the desk of his study, Serian Rice was in a fit of anger. He had finally managed to overthrow Grant’s rule, but he had also let Grant’s son slip through his grasp. Fate had also been thrown on the line, the one thing that Serian held dear. No doubt the boy will be back to reclaim the Presidency, Serian thought, neglecting to remember that the title of President was an elected seat. And that would be a terrible thing, indeed.
Serian was a shrewd and calculating man that possessed great wit. He knew that in order to preserve Fate, he must eliminate the greatest threat of all-- Solomon. The
boy had, after all, chosen to defy his fate once before. Serian knew that it was only a matter of time before he would test the depth of the waters once more. Serian brought the empty bottle of
whiskey to his lips. He wouldn’t drink, it was illegal, but he knew that he was on the brink of a breakdown.
He imagined himself guzzling the burning liquid, imagined it sliding easily into his gullet and warming up his cold, cruel heart. What have I done? was the mantra that played continuously in his mind. What he had done, of course, was sign the order for the execution of an entire family…but he had no regrets. He could not allow himself to feel regret, for he was in no state to feel such a compromising emotion. He had to remain composed, for he was now in charge of a country. A country that happened to be the remains of a civilization that had existed once before the war.
The door to his office opened. It was his wife, Cherran. He had never seen her look so admonishing, as she did at the present. Her golden eyes shone furiously and when she spoke her words rang in his head, instantly causing a headache. “Serian, what were you thinking? The President was a heretic? Serian, you know that this will only inflate the rebellion! More people will be convinced and willing to side with the Rebels once they see that our leader was one of them-- regardless of the verity of that statement.” She paused, running a hand through her short black hair. She awaited his response, and when there was none, she continued. “Serian, answer me! You cannot keep a firm grip on a country if you give the country reason to doubt the system-”
Serian, unable to take her berating any longer lashed out, the back of his left hand connecting with the side of her face. She gasped, but this was not the first time he had done this. She had learned to expect this kind of treatment any time she spoke her mind, but she continued doing so either way. He needed to hear what she had to say. She braced herself for the upcoming blow; this time he hit her shoulder, which ached. She cried out, but bit her lip, regretting the sound the instant she made it. She knew that to fight back would be foolish; it would only add fuel to the fire.
He would only become more enraged. These beatings usually lasted no more than a few minutes and only occurred when she got especially mouthy, and even then only when
he was in a foul mood. Cherran loved her husband, she really did. He meant well; but she knew that one could not justify ends by means. He believed he could, however, and strived for control.
Serian thought he could make the world a better place through force.
Serian drew his leg back to kick her, but thought better of it. Instead he took a deep breath and turned away, mollified by his own behavior. He could not recall when this had all started. It was after he learned that Cherran was infertile, of that he was sure. But as to what had initially sparked his wrath he was doubtful. Cherran slowly rose from the ground where she had been cowering. She approached Serian cautiously. “Serian?” she whispered. He stood up straight and squared his shoulders, his commanding self once more.
“I agree with you.” He said simply, strolling past his beaten wife and opening the door to his study. He turned and looked at Cherran before leaving. “Fate will right itself.”
The light of the sun woke Sol from his slumber. He stretched and groaned. He didn’t know why he had been sleeping in a tree until the events from the night before came flooding back in a powerful wave that almost knocked the breath out of him. Wilden was gone. He had killed her, and his sister, too. He remembered hearing Serian’s voice, his father’s loyal Vice President, and he was filled with an intense rage. How could Serian have killed his father? How could he have killed a little girl?
Sol looked below him and realized that he should be moving. Spending the night in the tree was far too risky, and he knew that he had a lot of ground to cover before
he would be back on track. Perhaps the Guards that were looking for him surpassed him, and in that case sleeping in the tree wasn’t a bad idea. But if they were just behind him…Sol checked to
make sure he was completely alone before sliding down the rough trunk of the tree. He took care to make sure that he did not leave anything behind, and then he was on his way.
The hike through the woods reminded him of his trip with the Food Regulators. His father had gone with him, one of the few instances that President Grant had time for his children. Naori was too young to go along, of course, so it was just father-son bonding time. Sol had watched as the Regulators set up rabbit snares.
His father had given him a rifle, which Sol was too timid to hold with confidence. President Grant taught Sol the correct way to fire a weapon, knowledge that was
banned in Seleucia. The citizens were not allowed to watch any video on the data bank that contained violence, not even the documentaries, until they were at a proper age. Sol had been 12 at the
time and Naori had been 3. She had been left at home with their mother.
When they got back, after Sol had shot and killed a deer, they found Naori sobbing over Rosalin Grant’s dead body. President Grant didn’t even bat an eyelash. He ordered Solomon to take Naori into her room while he called the coroner. Sol knew that his father loved his mother, though in that moment the president expressed no emotion. Sol had been stricken by his father’s behavior. Sure, he and Rosalind had been arguing lately. But that didn’t give his father an excuse to act as cold as he was.
Sol remembered his distress clearly; to find a dead spouse’s body and show no sign of grief wasn’t just morally unacceptable--it was abnormal. At the present, Sol
now understood his father’s reaction. The best way to keep control of an issue was to distance oneself from it. He recalled hearing his father crying at night, but never in the company of
another. Sol realized, now, that a man must never reveal weakness, not even the slightest form. This was true of women as well. Cherran Rice, Rosalind’s lifetime friend, had approached his
mother’s body merely an hour after she was discovered. The majestic woman was dry-eyed and strong.
Sol’s mind shifted to Cherran; did she know of the atrocity that had been committed by her husband? And if so, how was she handling it? While Cherran had cared for Solomon, he knew that she had been especially fond of her little Nay-O. Sol imagined that she would be furious. Perhaps she would even notify Parliament--unless they had a hand in the murders. Sol’s heart darkened. Who knew how far back the corruption extended? If only there was a way for him to go back and reveal to the people…
There would be anarchy, he knew, shaking the notion away before it tainted his mind. He had minimal hope of surviving either way. He had left his duffel bag on his
bed. Incriminating evidence, isn’t it? Sol grimaced, knowing that Serian would make sure that he was blamed for the crime. There was no hope of going back; all he could hope was to find a camp of
Rebels and integrate himself into the encampment.
Continuing on, Sol cursed himself for leaving the bag behind. He could have used the materials and equipment that he had spent valuable time packing. He soon grew tired of fretting over the past, and decided to focus on the present and on altering things that could be managed. He knew that he would need vittles, soon. His stomach gave a growl in agreement. Berries and Sweetgrass that could sustain him for weeks if he needed. His worry, however, was water.
Ever since the war, the waters outside of Seleucia were poisoned from the gasses that the enemy countries had released. The air was breathable, but that had taken
nearly a century. Sol felt that it was better to wait until he had put a distance between Seleucia and himself before he foraged for food.
Solomon exhaled heavily. The air was getting thinner and he could tell by the incline that he was making it into the higher altitudes. Apart from Seleucia and the Rebel camps, there was nothing save for rubble.
“Seleucia, oh Seleucia
Solitary and great.
My one and only Seleucia,
Defender of my Fate…”
The only thing left in the world, Solomon knew, was Seleucia. So it really was him against the world, he laughed bitterly. “Seleucia, oh Seleucia,” he sang even though it was difficult to breathe. And Sol was in-shape as it was. He walked, taking care to avoid paths; that was an easy task to accomplish, for he had long left the Seleucian hunting grounds. The rest of the wilderness had grown over the remains of the civilization that had once existed.
Despite his curiosity, he decided that he would not explore the ruins until he was sure of his safety from Seleucia. He hadn’t come across anything major either way.
In fact, all he had seen since his hike were a couple of shanty buildings, all made of wood, that the forest had reclaimed. Solomon paused, finding that he was exhausted, especially after going
without dinner and breakfast. He looked up and realized that he could not see the summit of the mountain. It was going to be a long and tiring hike, indeed.
Serian stood in the front of the Council Room facing the four out of five members of Parliament that had attended the meeting. His wife was not present, but he did not expect her to be. The expressions on the members of Parliament’s faces made Serian uncomfortable; nevertheless, he collected his thoughts and began discussing the issue.
“We know that Archibold Grant was collaborating with the Rebels. He would give them our valuable supplies. I know that you, as well as I, have no remorse over the death of a traitor. The more pressing matter is the escape of his son.” Serian waited a brief moment before he went on, in order to gauge the members’ reactions.
They nodded in agreement and, satisfied, he spoke once again. “He will be back for retribution. We need to find him before he can spark a revolution. He is the last
ember of the fire of chaos that needs to be snuffed. If we do not put him out, he would set all of Seleucia ablaze, along with the Alliance Countries.”
At that moment, the door opened. Cherran, the fifth member of Parliament, stepped inside. She wore a trim suit, burgundy hair twisted in an elegant bun. This was a contrast from the night before, when she had been disheveled and bruised from her run-in with Serian. She and her husband did not even glance at one another; Cherran simply strolled to her seat and sat down.
Serian allowed her a moment to settle before continuing. “On the issue of the deaths, the matter is simple; Solomon is a fugitive and a murderer. Along with poor, sweet Wilden, he killed his darling sister and father in an attempt to offset Fate.”
Athena Coulper, blonde and ageless though she was over fifty, raised a hand. “And what of Solomon? We must reach him before he makes contact--”
“I have notified the Alliance Countries, and they are willing to locate and capture Solomon. He isn’t aware of the other countries, so he will get comfortable and they will catch him off guard. Aside from that, Jiminez is leading the Elite 5 to hunt for Solomon.”
This statement sufficed, though Cherran made a slight protest. “Was it necessary to kill Naori, though? How did that fit into your agenda?” The tension in the room was palpable. Once the question was asked, there was no way to take it back. Cherran had meant to do that, clearly. She continued, hoping to goad him into making a mistake. “She was only a child, Serian. To murder a heretic is one thing, Serian, but to murder a child…”
He did not bite, however. No; he was far too clever for that. “The soldier who was solely responsible for her death has been dealt with. It was a tragedy and nothing can mitigate it, but justice has been served. Now, I strongly advise that you do not speak out of turn again, Ms. Rice.” He hedged her once more, carefully selecting his words. The members of the council all heard the threat in his voice, but they said nothing in response to it.
It was known, though not often spoke of, that Serian was an abusive husband. The Parliament often did not delve into the personal lives of the other members; it was
not their place, and they would not appreciate it if their own lives were put on an examination table and dissected. Though this was a factor in their decision to keep out of private matters, the
determining factor was that they feared Serian. This was also the reason that they had gone along with the assault on President Grant, and numerous other sketchy things that they did not
necessarily agree with.
For the first time that day, Serian looked at his wife. His gaze burned right through her but she did not shy away as any other human might, anyone intelligent, that is. Cherran Rice was not easily intimidated; she suffered through 8 years of Serian’s abuse for a reason and she did not intend to neglect her cause for her own sake. She held his gaze for an uncomfortable minute until she looked away, knowing which battles could and could not be won. There was an even greater battle to come, anyhow, and Cherran would assure that Naori’s death would be paid for.
The meeting commenced and Parliament agreed that Serian was, indeed, the man most capable of leading Seleucia. He was the man most capable of capturing Solomon Grant and the rest of the Rebels, who threatened to deface their precious Fate. What a poor choice of a man they put their faith in.
Days, it must have been days he had gone without water. He thought of the purification tablets left in his bag and the food he had left behind as well; Sol couldn’t think of any issues other than imminent ones, and soon he couldn’t think of anything. Gradually his pace grew slower and slower until he was barely moving at all. The human body can last only a few days without water, and Sol was not hydrated at the start of his expedition in the first place.
Darkness was falling and he fell to his side; it would be so very, very easy to let the darkness wash over him like a tide, to carry his body away from shore so that
not a trace of him remained. He felt his eyes closing and his heartbeat slow.
Something stung his nose. A sharp, musky scent burned his nostrils and he willed his eyes to open. He could see a plume of smoke barely ten meters away. He strained his ears and to his surprise heard voices, sounding off in hushed whispers. If he could make it to that fire, to those voices, he knew he would reach salvation; he had a feeling. He dragged himself through the trees, collecting leaves and brambles.
Thorns seared his sides and arms, unrelenting. He groaned as his stiff, aching limbs added weight to his load, and when he made the noise his cracked lips opened
wider and bled. His swollen tongue licked the blood off, but the gnats and flies were already swarming. He looked, smelled, and felt like a carcass of rotting flesh; if he did not reach the camp
in time, he surely would be.
“What are you doing, Cal? Dim that flame before somebody sees!” a female voice said in an urgent tone.
Sol was getting closer. If he could call out they’d hear and rescue him. Maybe they had purified water. Sol knew that his strength was fading as the light from the sky, but he lifted his head and gave a startlingly strong plea, just one word: “Help.”
The woods were still after that, the voices ceased. Had he only imagined them? No, he couldn’t have, because the smoke was still rising above the canopy of trees. He dragged himself closer, over leaves and brambles still. He reached a clearing, finally, and standing behind a tree were two people, a male and a female. They could see him and in his weakened state he could say nothing. The girl approached with a quiet “Oh my god,” but his hearing was fading as was his consciousness, like the light dissipating above his head. As he closed his eyes he saw the bright flaming hair of his savior billowing behind her as the wind picked up.
© Copyright 2017 Laura DeWinter. All rights reserved.
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