1/3 chapter 3
“Where is he?” Tycho wailed. Amarillius held him in her lap, rocking him. Sharn leaned on her shoulder. They sat at the edge of the alley, watching the speeding traffic. It had been twelve hours since Rune had gone missing. All of them were tired and hungry. Tycho had been crying all morning, Sharn was silent. “I don’t know.” Amarillius responded, her own voice choked. She had heard sirens while the two younger boys were sleeping. Something must have gone wrong. With a sob, she realized. Her big brother probably wouldn’t be coming back. Footsteps jerked Amarillius from her thoughts. Lots of people had passed by the alley, casting them pitying glances, but this was more purposed. Louder, almost comically so. Amarillius stood, still cradling weeping Tycho. A man turned into the alley. A police officer.
Amarillius backed away until her back hit the opposite building. “It’s okay,” the officer said, putting out his hands in a calming gesture. “I’m Rune.” Amarillius still watched warily, but the officer retreated farther down the alley and turned behind the building. “are you coming?” called a more familiar voice. Amarillius grabbed Sharn’s hand and rushed after her brother. She turned the corner. Standing alone, his shoulders slumped, was Rune. Amarillius let out a cry of joy, ran to him and embraced him, squishing Tycho.
Rune watched as his young sister and brother’s arms wrapped around him. A small, sad smile found his lips. Sharn watched shyly, hesitant. His ice-blue human eyes searched Rune’s face, taking in his matted hair, dirty and bloodied face and the gash on his forehead. “What happened to you?” He asked. Rune sighed, gently pushing his siblings off him. He changed his appearance to match theirs. He had two appearances that were fugitives now, he couldn’t be seen as himself or either of those.
“A lot.” He slid down the wall and dropped his head against the wall, closing his eyes. “but I feel I’ve been through a black hole. I’ll tell you later.” His siblings sat by him, Tycho dropped his head against his big brother’s shoulder and soon the alley was filled with the sound of steady breathing.
Amarillius smiled at her youngest and oldest brother sleeping peacefully. She grabbed Sharn’s hand. “come on,” she whispered. “We need to do something.”
“Please!” Amarillius pleaded. She stood in front of the salesman's table. She had asked if he would give them food for free. But the salesman shook his head. “I’m not just giving away food for free, you don’t have money, you get no food.” The young girl glared at him and pulled her little brother away. “Let’s go. This guy is no good.” Her brother nodded and stuck out a tongue at the salesman. Disrespectful children. The salesman thought. He put his sales face back on as someone else passed, but they weren’t going to buy anything. It was Jarvis Stone, the fuel salesman. The thin, shy man disliked the food salesman. Then again, most people didn't.
“Excuse me,” A quiet voice said behind Amarillius. If she didn’t still have her sarsh hearing, she wouldn’t have heard him. She turned. “yes?” It was a tall, lean man, his eyes downcast. “I heard you saying your siblings were struggling. I might be able to help you.” Amarillius smiled. “Let me take you to my brother.”
“rune? Rune!” Rune’s ice-blue eyes snapped open, momentarily disoriented. Standing over him was Amarillius and a man, a human. Rune leapt his feet, Tycho still fast asleep in his arms, his cheek against his big brother’s shoulder. “Amarillius!” he hissed, clearly upset by the presence of the man. His young sister made a calming gesture. “He said he can give you a paying job and us a place to stay.” Rune looked back and forth between his sister and the man, who was curiously looking at his rather dirty police uniform. “What do you have in mind?” Rune asked the man.
The thin man led them through the crowd. “My name is Jarvis.” He said over the hum of the city sounds. “I am Rune. Theses are my siblings, Amari, Sharn and Tycho.” Jarvis nodded to Rune’s crumpled, dirty police uniform. “Are you an officer?” Rune shook his head. “it-it belonged to my Dad.” He lied. Jarvis frowned. “Where is he now?” Rune narrowed his eyes. “dead.” He answered curtly. Jarvis gulped. “What about your mother?” Rune growled. “They have both been gone for a long time.” Jarvis nodded, getting the distinct sense that it was a touchy conversation for him. Silence ensued.
“My shop is farther downtown.” Jarvis broke the silence as they passed underneath the shade of a tree. To their right was a parking lot. “We’ll take my truck there.” Jarvis gestured to a black truck parked in the large parking lot. Rune glared at him. “If you even think about messing with my siblings, I’ll-” Jarvis held out a calming hand, his siblings watched their big brother with wide, awed eyes. “I assure you, I only want to help. I’m not the tricking sort. I can see no one would want to mess with you,” he consoled, eyeing Rune’s well-muscled arm supporting his little brother and the angry crease in his dark brows, just above his intensely cold eyes. Jarvis swallowed, intimidated by a man twenty years younger than he. He dropped his soft brown eyes from Rune’s stare. “You will have to ride in the truck bed. There is no room in the cab.” Rune growl-sighed, but started toward the truck, motioning for his siblings to follow.
A few moments later, the hot wind whipped around the four siblings in the back of the truck. Rune sat on the against the cab’s back, his black hair whipping around his set face. Tycho still sat in his lap, head against his big brother’s chest. Rune rubbed the scar on his angular jawline. He left the scars on his face and neck when he morphed to human form. There was no use hiding them. When they were clambering in the truck bed, Rune had felt Jarvis’s eyes on him. Now, as the stale wind whipped his long hair, Rune sighed. He closed his eyes and dropped his head against the warm, vibrating car. He wished he were back on Zenith where the air was fresh and he lived a better life. He didn’t sit in dirty alleys, ignored by everyone. Where he was admired. Loved.
He sucked in a breath as an image appeared behind his closed eyes. Colonel Lorde’s livid face inches from his own, his face twisted with anger.
Orlan. His lilac eyebrows drawn together like a rising ocean wave, ready to crash. His mouth was pressed into a thin angry line. He was shaking his head.
Lyris. Disappointment shone in her indigo eyes. Her slender finger traced his cheek and he pushed it away. Rune’s heart skipped a beat. He sat up, his eyes popping open.
It wasn’t love he ever had there. Not admiration. It was a sense of duty. And when he did what he was told, everyone was pleased. Not admiring. Not loving. Rune glanced down at Tycho’s head leaning against his chest, his younger siblings sat beside him, their heads against his shoulders. Their faces were peaceful. They were comfortable around him. They trusted him. Rune felt a prickle of tears. Maybe he had never been loved because he had never loved anyone first. But maybe he could change that.
Rune watched the buildings speed past, people were just blurs of color. In the blue sky, white clouds drifted lazily. The sarsh closed his eyes. His hair tangled and twirled, dancing to an unheard song. He felt more here at peace than he ever had been at home.
He gently took his siblings awake as Jarvis brought the truck to a stop. As they left the center of town, there were more trees and green grass. Rune was glad to see it, he was unused to seeing a place devoid of vegetation. He held Tycho, still sleepy, with one arm. With his free hand, he traced the long scar on his jawbone. Jarvis stepped out of the car, gesturing to a building much smaller and more inviting than the buildings in the center of town. “there is my house.” It was tall, the outer bricks painted a reddish color. The white roof sloped down and hurt to look at in the midday sunlight. Amarillius grabbed Sharn’s hand and followed Rune and Jarvis towards the house.
Inside the building, it was more like a business. Jarvis explained he was a fuel salesman, his shop and house were all one. He informed them they would sleep in the attic. None of them really knew what an attic was, but they went with it.
“you can go clean yourself up over there,” Jarvis told Rune, pointing down a hall. “I’ll get some other clothes.” Rune nodded his gratitude and with Tycho still in his arms, he headed down the hall.
In the restroom, Rune stood in front of the large mirror. Because of the red human blood, the scars on his face and neck were purplish. Seeing the red blood on his forehead, he wrinkled his nose. Humans were odd and he didn’t exactly enjoy being one. Rune set Tycho on the edge of the sink and rinsed his face. The water turned pink as he washed the blood off his face. He frowned as fresh blood welled from the gash by his hairline. He removed his shirt, frowned at it. It was dirty and it stank like sweat. He dropped it on the floor. There was a knock on the door. Rune pulled it open mid-knock. Jarvis’s eyes widened and he offered a bundle of clothing, his eyes averted. Rune nodded his thanks and took the clothes, closing the door.
Rune put on the clothes Jarvis gave him. There were long black pants and a sleeveless shirt. The shirt was on the tight side, but not terribly so. Tycho watched him, fully awake now. Rune allowed his little brother to clamber onto his back and he carried him out.
Sharn, Amarillius and Jarvis were in the attic. When Rune climbed the creaking ladder and pushed open the hatch that led into the attic, a blast of hot air met him in the face. Tycho made a face. “It’s hot.” He complained. Rune climbed up the rest of the way and lowered Tycho to the ground. “Better than being on the streets.” He consoled. There were two mattresses set beneath a window in the roof. Jarvis had shoved aside the masses of boxes to allow some space for the siblings. When they were finished, Jarvis dusted off his hands. “are you all hungry? I can order some pizzas.” All Rune’s younger siblings cried agreements, but Rune was skeptical. They had never eaten human food before. “I can get us situated. You go.. order pizzas.” Rune said, waving a dismissive hand at Jarvis. The thin man nodded and clambered down the ladder.
Rune turned to his younger siblings. “Okay,” he said. “you all have to understand something, so listen carefully.” His siblings scooted forward, eyes on him. “we cannot change form at all here. We have to keep these forms until I can..” he paused. “Maybe get us back home.” Amarillius frowned. “Maybe?” Rune shook his head, waving her question away like an unpleasant smell. “I have to figure a lot of things out and need to somehow get in contact with Admiral Gallas. Also, while we are here, you all cannot change form unless I tell you, understand?” All his siblings nodded. Rune watched their faces. “Good. Now. The sleeping situation needs to be attended to.”
Just as they finished, Jarvis loudly informed them the pizza had arrived. Rune sighed. He didn’t know what pizza was, but he hoped his siblings wouldn’t say anything about it and eat it without complaining. The four siblings trampled down the ladder and filed into the kitchen where Jarvis stood at the door, speaking with someone beyond it. The three younger siblings peeked out from behind Jarvis, studying the man dressed in red and white who gave Jarvis two flat boxes from which a wonderful smell wafted. The red and white man smiled down at the children. “You pick ‘em off the street or did you finally decide to divorce the job?” Jarvis frowned at him and resigned from answering. The man was about to say something more, but caught Rune’s wilting glare and his mouth clopped shut. Jarvis paid him and shut the door.
Two minutes later, all five were seated at the table. Rune’s siblings were already on their second piece, but Rune was already on his fifth. He had eaten the first in half a minute. Jarvis watched him, hiding slightly behind his slice of pizza as he watched Rune devour the food in seconds. “I guess you were hungry?” he said, laughing a little. He was full after two pieces, but the rest of the pizza was gone in five minutes as the siblings ate like they hadn’t in months.
That night, in the stifling heat of the attic, Rune shifted in the palpable silence. He lay on his back beside Tycho; the sky past the window above him reflected in his blue eyes. There were no stars out, but there were no clouds either. Rune’s body relaxed as his mind calmed and he drifted into slumber, his siblings beside him.