“Drizzie, hex nut.”
Clever paws shifted through the droors accompanied by the gentle clinks and tinks of small metal pieces. A near unintelligible, silvery clack alerted me of his deliverance. I stifled a grin, glad for trained ears and trained animals.
He’d set the nut in the silver tray, and as I reached for it with gloved hands three sets of feet grasped the edge of it. Fea, Thea, and Res, a well-oiled machine in themselves, waited in a feathery que, an hour, minute or second hand in each beak as naturally as if it were material for a nest.
“And the hands. Thanks.” I muttered. Wings beat the air as they retreated to the window tunnel.
The brass washer secure, I topped it with Drizzie’s hex nut and the hands.
Spirit yipped, and I startled. Speaking for Piglet, as per usual.
“No, we have a seconds hand this time. We don’t need the open nut.”
Spirit huffed in discontentment, the sound of his thick red fur against the crudely cut wood of the floor alerting me of his wrapping of his tail around himself. Res squawked at the pair, that odd fox and hedgehog, attempting to drill in the importance of patience.
“There is no place for hypocrites here, Res.” I chuckled, pleasing Fea and Thea to a titter.
A screwdriver rolled across the workdesk to tap my arm, and I glanced at Drizzie, thankful and then suspicious. He usually only took responsibility for the nuts, and being a squirrel, it was quite fitting. However, whenever he went out of his way to be helpful otherwise, it meant he wanted something.
I nodded, and the promise of later conversation was sealed.
Screws were driven, the tension of a project evaporating as it came to a close, and my back lifted when that wonderful snap pierced the air of the cabin. I didn’t even need to hold the pocketwatach to my ear to know it’s clockwork heartbeat had been restored.
The raven declared her satisfaction with a rumbling coo more befitting of a dove. Spirit’s back appeared next to my chair, Piglet reaching her arms out to grasp the bird’s treasure from her permanent perch on the foxs’ back. The black bird had brought it’s scavengement to Hiro this morning, so in the natural flow of things it had ended up on my workdesk to be repaired.
The natural flow. Like clockwork: Hiro the hero, Seb on the side. The sidekick, behind the scenes, magicless and, for better or worse, lacking in some great destiny hanging over my head. That’s how things have worked, a dynamic already on its path to being set long before Hiro’s prophesied Awakening.
I stood up and thrust my chair back with more force than necessary. That insolvable throbbing pulse at my fingertips, my ability itching for metal.
Tinkering. Of all things, why this?
I observed as the raven shuffled out the window tunnel, wings tight at it’s side, awkward in a space meant for those with a smaller size.
Awkward and out of place in an environment meant for someone else.
The raven flew out into the forest, the metal chain of the pocket watch dangling from its mouth, the clock becoming a pendulum once the bird got a flight rhythm. It shone in the sun, gleaming with new purpose.
I could tie the example with the raven in the tunnel to myself in two ways.
First: the fact that I’m stuck with an ability I never had any passion for before it awakened. Cramped into a category I never volunteered to be a part of. Those who don’t get a magical ability, an important Awakening or purpose, promise and destiny, get a regular ability, a Thing they are talented enough at to turn it into a profession. The extras, the civilians, the sidekicks. The expendables.
Second: that I am being strung into a destiny that isn’t mine; that isn’t meant for me. Pure coincidence and luck brought Hiro and me together, the same combination I like to convince myself bestowed my best friend with the ‘Chosen One-ness’. A tagalong in someone else’s story, out of place and more likely to be a hindrance than a help.
It’s recognizably strange that while I have a tinkering ability, I have a misfit of woodland animals at my disposal (not that I would ever dispose of them). These are the ones that for whatever reason don’t obey Hiro’s every whim, and further still have decided to stick with me in all my glorious anomaly.
Drizzie’s excuse is that he likes to play with the little pieces of things, particularly the nuts. He really just likes to steal and bury them.
The birds claim they like the sound and appearance of the metal. They actually just like the free rent and security of having their nests in a cabin.
Piglet says she likes my stories, but I think she feels somehow indebted since I helped Spirit out of a hunter’s trap, and I suspect she likes when I brush her with the spare toothbrush. As for Spirit, I’ve never seen that fox without his hedgehog.
I bent down to tie my boots, shooing a moth away from my monocle. I mostly use it for close-up work, but I may have need for regular glasses soon. My hearing’s exceptional, which proves advantageous when one lives in a forest, but my vision tends to blur when looking at things up close.
I adjust my jacket on my shoulders, grab my rucksack and sigh through my nose, my thoughts consumed by memories and swimming with regret. I need to find something to fix, quickly. Due to my ability I can’t stand to be away from problems for long, despite my tendency to be a walking problem. I push open the door, my soles relieved to be useful again as they crush into soft earth. Spirit trots alongside me, Piglet steering from behind his ears, and meager tugs in my hair proves my theory that Drizzie caught a ride. It felt strange at first, this having animal companions, because I was never one to be close to nature: Hiro was the green thumb, the one who could practically talk to animals even before the Awakening. It gave me a sense of comfort, solace and power, this companionship, because they chose me, in a way. They weren’t directed by the universe to obey or assist me because of my destiny, with a sickening absence of volition. These odd creatures defy even Hiro to accompany me in my monachopsis, and I now find their company more easing than even that of my own family. Their little signs of presence, subtle mannerisms, reliability and unpredictability, and the feeling of having sounds around me which I know the cause of, but I’m not the one making them is inexplicably wonderful.
“So, have you gotten word of the next task?” I ask the trees, after having listened for the distinct rustle of my three flying friends. Fea’s low-to-high whistle responded, her imitation of, “Not yet.”
My vision blurred for a moment before I refocused it, and I shoved my throbbing fingers into the pockets of my jacket.
Spirit snorted for Piglet. “I’m alright.” I assured them. For the umpteenth time I felt as if this ability is more of a curse. But then again, it has the tendency to be quite useful on occasion, when I’m not killing time or impulse fixing trash-to-treasure for ravens.
We traveled through the forest for some time, the animals glad to stretch their wings or legs or tails and my body glad for that consolatory cadence of walking and breathing at a certain pace, and my rubatosis became less bothersome. The air hummed with the thing only describable as an emotion between summer and autumn. Sun shone through leaves which were as indecisive as adolescents, as if they couldn’t choose whether to stay or fall, or what colour to be today. The air was lovely, past that sickening, heavy heat where the scent of things baking and rotting in the forest stuffed your nose, and insects began their annual revolution, and it wasn’t quite to where the chill burned your nose and made your lips salty with nostril-runnings. No, what wafted through my lungs was blissful, at harmony with warmth and clear. And as my nose had opened my ears had closed, and I took a moment to listen again for those familiar sounds running through the woods.
There was nothing.
This kenopsia, an eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with life but is now abandoned with life, it had consumed everything in my vicinity, and the hand of panic squeezed my heart as I recalled my only other memory of this abnormal stillness.
A Passing. When an Awakened Hero dies before they are able to carry out their purpose or destiny, there is a ceremony, a trading of magic, between that Hero and a new Chosen One. The universe cannot control everything, so this is a last resort in order to restore the balance of the timeline. Some things must be carried out, and if it’s not a Hero, it needs to be the next best thing. Some force is able to keep the Hero on the brink of death until the Receiver arrives, and then there is a transfer of power, a passing of legacy and responsibility as well as a passing of life. A death of a Hero and a birth of a new one; a circle of life, like clockwork.
I witnessed a Passing before. You feel it, in your soul. A train of emotions, each passing car a new feeling. Confusion, realisation, shock, worry, despair, they move on until the trade is fulfilled. I assume it was nothing to what the Hero or the Receiver felt, in that moment of death and rebirth, sacrifice and duty. The Hero convulsed, a light escaping their throat, a blue pearl, corruscating with a sublime luminosity. Such a small thing, with the power to change not just a life, but lives, and the world. And a silence was forced on every surrounding thing, a dull stillness, abundant and laden. History had been changed, and everyone knew it.
I immediately had a hypothesis, and I wouldn’t allow my eyes to leak until I was absolutely sure it was irreversible. This blackout of sound only magnified what I could feel. My legs burned as I ran with unmatched ferocity to the place I knew I needed to be. Toward Hiro, my hero, my best friend, who had such potential I could never compare. Why? What had happened? Why was someone else to be the savior and fulfiller of her duty, when she could have done it so much better?
So pure, so green, so lovely. A perfect hero, bold and beautiful, considerate and thoughtful. The type to be Chosen. The type who will listen to anyone, even animals.
I imagine that pearl of light escaping her, and I can’t . . . . I can’t believe she could be taken. The forest is hushed, reserved, and mourning, but I won’t mourn yet.
I reach a clearing, windless but for that which is puffing from my lungs. Red stains the pale grasses, up ahead, and a body I refuse to call a corpse is slack and still. Hiro’s auburn hair shines in the sun, and I’m reminded of the pocket watch, flickering gold, a pendulum as the raven flew into the sky. I run to her, and her eyes are narrowed with pain and fatigue. Her breaths are shallow and shattered, an arrow having pierced her lung. I recognize the carving in the slender wood, that of her nemesis’ elven assassins. She should have been safe, we have so many protections in place . . . .
“Hiro.” I say her name, blink, and the tears fall, warm, wet, uncomfortable and unwelcome.
She sighs and chokes, eyes widening. I want to grab her but I’m deathly scared of causing her more harm. I’m a mechanic, not a medic. I know clockwork, not hearts.
“Seb.” She managed.
I analyze her every movement, desperately trying to see whether I could be of service. Her hand twitched, and she tapped a slip of paper near her side, bordered with blood but otherwise invisible against the grass. I meet her eyes, and assimilate their expression with a child desperately holding on to the monkey bars. I must have gone insane with panic.
I kneel down in a swift movement, grab the paper and never once do I break eye contact. It’s just us two. Hiro the hero and Seb the sidekick, in a silent world in a broken moment. The world was a clock, and it’s time had stopped.
A faint green glow began underneath the flesh of her stomach, and I was consumed by helplessness. Her mouth opened like a hatch, a small glowing ball of green light the size of a marble defying gravity and my will floating out of her. Her eyes lost their fight, and with a surreal sedatedness they shifted to me expectantly. My mind protested but my hand acted of its own accord, plucking the tiny vessel from the air and slipping it down my throat. I felt numb. How horrid was I, too take her power? How horrid and wrong was the universe, to think I could take her place?
Then Hiro‘s heart had stopped beating, yet another Thing I could never fix.
You are better, best
You’re the true hero
Saved me, so many times
I love you
They aren’t machines, but you can understand!
Fight for you, me
It’s more than
The rest of the note was covered in her blood.