Silence filled the room around Will. All of the voices that had been talking around him just moments before had dispersed. The gentle sound of wind and rain pattering against the window seemed to get quieter as the minutes dragged on lazily. It made his throat itch; suddenly he felt parched.
Will looked up from studying the floor to where the door had been. Huh. He chuckled. How many times I have I been like this in the last four months?
After a moment, his smile faded. After easing to stand, Will stretched his arms high above his head, yawned, and then went toward the door to the hallway. Opening it, he peeked out to the dim hall.
Several feet away was a circle table that looked like it'd been sawed in half, as half of the circle was missing so it could be flush against the wall. Resting on it was a pair of white candles in bronze holders illuminating soft yellow light over the area. Will could clearly make out Viau standing at attention right next to the table. Several feet farther down the hall, two more knights sat on the ground poking each other's hands and playing what looked like a thumb-war. Farther still were the rest of the King's Knights, either standing at attention with their eyes shut leaning against the wall or each other, or sitting on the ground leaning against the wall; one young man was leaning against a girl's leg, looking entirely exhausted.
Will frowned seeing the sight of them. They must be really worried about Rhys. All of them look tired out.
“Uhm,” Will said softly, stepping out behind the door. Viau squinted his eyes open, glancing over to make sure he'd heard something from the bedroom. When he saw Will, he nodded to him. “Could you escort me to the nearest piano?”
Viau frowned. It was written on his face: You do realize what time it is, right? But he said nothing as he turned down the hall. “Sara, Tino. Are you awake?”
Will lifted his hand to stop him, lightly touching his left forearm. The soft touch caused Viau to look at him instantly. It was such a sudden motion that it caused Will to step back. A few feet away, the two addressed groaned. Sara was laying on the ground with her head propped up by her hand, while Tino had been sitting next to her legs.
After another groan, the man, Tino asked in a tired voice, “Yeah?”
“What's up?” Sara asked as soon as Tino finished, opening her eyes blearily.
The two, looking a lot like twins, glared over to Viau. Will offered them an empathetic smile which they just ignored, their green eyes focused on the knight.
Viau turned his face back to them, lifting his chin in a haughty manner. “Get up. We're going to the piano.” As soon as he finished, he started to walk down the hall. Once he was past the group of exhausted knights, the two shifting up with some groans,Viau stopped and looked at Will. “This way.”
Uneasily, Will stepped after him softly. He was trying to take care to make sure his steps were as quiet as possible. As soon as he caught up to Viau, the knight turned and briskly started walking down the hall without another word.
Will could hear behind them Sara speak to the two that had been playing thumb-war. “Got that? We'll be in bastion-five.”
The two walked through the large wide halls of the palace without exchanging a word. After a few minutes, Viau led Will up a short wide staircase lined with thick drapes. The landing they stepped onto had a simple half-sized grand piano in the middle of it. The space wasn't very large; the ceiling at the far end was halfway domed with stained glass that offered no beautiful colors in the dark of night. Hanging above the piano was a simple bronze chandelier with electric bulbs.
“Will this do?” Viau asked as he walked over to the right on the landing. He pulled a switch on the wall that sent electricity up a black cord from the spot on the wall, up inconspicuously to the hanging chandelier.
As soon it was flicked, the lights turned on – eight simple amber lights illuminated the landing. Will saw now that he'd never seen this piano before. Lining the landing were single pots of persimmon trees between each of the tall glass windows, totaling five plants. On either side at the top of the stairs were two small hydrangeas. Nothing was in bloom, but the green lushness of the plants served to make the chestnut wood floors seem warmer, and more welcoming.
The piano itself wasn't plain at all. As Will stepped closer to it, he noted that although it was glossy and well-kept, it obviously hadn't been played in a while. It was a dark teal color that had looked almost black when the light was off, but with it on, it looked as vibrant as the harbor on a spring day.
In awe, Will sat himself down at the piano. He ran his hand gently over the key lid. You poor thing. You've … you've hardly ever been touched. And yet you're kept in such a lovely open room. He shut his eyes, allowing his breath to become quiet.
Behind him, the sound of Sara and Tino coming up the stairs to talk to Viau echoed into his ears. But he pushed it out mindfully.
I don't have Crow, I don't have my father, I don't even have Rhys. I don't feel comfortable going to talk to Irene. She's known me the… Then Will's thoughts paused. He opened his eyes to look at the piano. I wonder when I began to rely on her as a friend? Was she as kind to me when I was the marquis?
Immediately Will shook his head. He let out a breath, calmed his nerves, and lifted his hands. Hesitantly, he began to play, starting with his right ring finger hitting a single key four times to get a sense of the instrument's condition. On the fourth time, he pressed his foot against one of the keys. Satisfied with that sound, Will began to play a solemn tune.
His blue eyes danced across the glossy surface of the keys while he played. To him, his thoughts weren't connecting to the music. The tone was nonsense and uninterrupted.
I can't rely on them forever but am I strong enough to do this without? I feel sick. I have to stay because I'm the next one “in power”. What a joke. He scoffed, jerking his chin a bit as a smile came onto his face. But, still with that smile, he thought, Had this been four years ago, would I falter?
He let out a sigh, the tune changing into something much more somber and slow. Would Crow?
After a moment's pause, Will chuckled, the tune morphing into something upbeat. Actually, he did. The kid just up and flew the coop. I can see why Phyte'd name him after a bird. He seems to flutter around. Oh.
Will's hands froze mid-note. It prompted the three knights their full attention on him, but none moved.
Will's eyes while staring at the keys began to unfocus. The lines between each blurred. The room felt like it was twisting, lurching his weight forward. Will snapped his head, harshly shaking it left and right. When he stopped, he stared at the keys with his eyes wide open.
He – He can – They all can – They can hear my emotions through the notes.
Slowly, Will withdrew his hands to his lap. He kept his eyes on the keys, hanging his head forward. A frown came onto his lips when he sighed once more.
I don't want to be that open. I – I don't really know these knights well.
He shut his eyes. His shoulders slumped. The three knights noted his posture looked like he'd entirely given up.
But, I can't tell him my feelings. It'll be the same as hacking off his wings.
I'm exhausted. In the morning, I wanted to go to the Toul Wood, but now… Will heard Viau clear his throat just steps behind him. It interrupted his train of thought. As Will looked from the ground back to the keys, he sighed once more. His mind went blank, and his gut ached.
With little effort, Will shifted his weight until he slid from the bench down to the floor onto his knees. From there, he laid forward, folding his arms under his chin, and shut his eyes. After a few seconds, he rotated his hips, and got a bit more comfortable to lay on the floor in a sideways ball.
“I can't do it.” Will mumbled softly. “I can't take away his freedom.”
“Okay,” Crow mused as he turned his attention forward after shutting the door to the bedroom Will had been in. “Just…where am I?”
Above him, Crow could see the darkness of the sky. Rain was falling, he could hear it, but hardly any drops were reaching him through the thick canopy of trees surrounding him. He looked around, spotting thick underbrush, lots of trees, and no sign of light or clearing.
He grit his teeth with irritation. “Serves me right for listening to that nitwit.” Crow shook his fist up above him before taking a step forward into the brush. Instantly his foot fell a startling distance, his whole shin swallowed up by a cool pool of water hidden by some ferns. Crow yelped, grabbing onto plants as he went down. When the motion stopped, Crow flopped down onto his torso, groaned heavily, and then began to yank himself out. His body tensed when he felt greenery and dirt dig itself under his nails as he climbed out. “Akiio's nowhere in sight!”
Once he was up, Crow opened his left palm and created a flame. His golden eyes glared up around him at the plants. He swung his hand around left and right until the brush was clear enough he could make out the rippling water of the pool he'd sunk into. He straightened up and started forward, setting any leaves, branches or vines on fire if they blocked his face. He had no patience to even lean down to avoid things that would barely brush against the top of his hair.
He wandered for hours, keeping track of where he'd been by noting things that had been charred. The first thing to stop his forward motion was a collection of thick vines and leaves falling onto his head when he burned a support vine. With an angry huff, he swung his hand up to set the whole bunch on fire.
Out of nowhere a spray of cool water impacted Crow's face, dripping down to his torso. “For the love of–”
“Silence!” Snapped a woman's voice.
Baffled, Crow tensed his shoulders while his hands lifted to muse his bangs out of his eyes. Slowly Crow looked up to see where the water came from. Standing a few feet away from him was a woman that looked several years older than him dressed in a blue shirt tucked into cream pants. She had black knee-high heavy duty boots on, a sword sheathed on her left hip, and a lime green scarf that looked to have no end as it looped around her neck. She had golden blond hair, and bore a striking resemblance to Dove, much to Crow's chagrin.
“You set one more thing on fire and I'll have you drowned!” she continued in a rude tone. Held above her shoulders firmly by her bony white hands was an empty bucket that clearly had recently held water.
“I take it you're a resident elf of this stupid forest.”
“Pack your insults away in your rectum.” She ordered. “You're coming with me!”
Crow dropped his arms, swinging them by his side, immediately irritated. “The hell I am, lady. I'm here looking for an assassin that looks like he's licking death's butthole. Now if you'll excuse me.” He turned away from her, moving to take a step.
As soon as he lifted his foot, Crow felt another wave of water hit his back. He groaned audibly at her. “As I said, you're coming with me.”
“Uh, no.” Crow looked over his shoulder at her. “You don't want me to char shit? Then fine, I won't. But I'm not walkin' anywhere after a snippy blond. Call me biased.” Crow shook his head with a scoff, then started through the brush away from her. The last time I did, she led me straight into a shiny coin that cost me five years of my life.
A small soft rustle sounded behind Crow. He stopped after a few steps to look at the blond elf following him. She glowered at him. “You'll never find it.”
Crow grinned instinctively, turning ahead. Not like I haven't spent too many years looking for lost memories scattered about the world as the god of amnesia's personal little minion.
Finally Crow stopped when he heard the echo of birds chirping above him. Morning at last, and still no sign of Akiio. Phyte must've been off the mark this time. Can't always be perfect.
Dense trees clouded light from above, forcing sunlight to be filtered through leaves and branches until an ethereal glow filled the area. Birds hummed and chirped, while the uneasy sound of wild boars making a commotion as they rustled by could be heard. The green light made the knobs and twists of the plants feel alive in a way that they would move dramatically without the aid of wind; Possessed.
Crow took in the sight for a moment before he climbed up out of the brush onto a fallen log partly covered in moss. As he walked, balancing with his arms outstretched, he scanned his blue eyes around as the movement of birds and squirrels would catch his attention. On one hand, he was alone, and on the other, he was surrounded by life.
“Give up yet?” the woman asked.
Crow sighed, plopping his hands onto his hips. Right. There's this elf, too. “Fine.” He scoffed with defeat, turning to look at her from up on the log. “Where is the stupid village?”
She shook her head with an expression that looked like she was trying to hide her disgust. She climbed up onto the log, pushed past Crow, and jumped down the other side. “Humans have absolutely no sense of direction.”
“The heck does that mean!?” Crow blurted indignantly, jumping down after her.
“It means exactly what I said.” She answered without turning to look back.
“Oh, you must know Dove.”
The elf stopped so suddenly in front of Crow that he banged into her. Yelping, he took a step back as she turned on him. “I know Irene.”
“Right,” Crow nodded, leaning his shoulders back away from her. “Of course you do. And, you are…?”
“Lucy.” was the curt reply. She turned on her heel and pointed straight ahead of them. “The village is open.”
Crow leaned down to her eye-level, peering through the vines and darkness. He could make out in the sunlight a tall wooden wall with a white painted door meant for a barn. Now I can finally get out of here!
Crow tripped over himself as he ran forward to the door. “Hey! Open up!” Crow banged with both of his hands against the wood. “I need to get in!”
“Humans also lack manners.” Lucy said from behind Crow. He turned to look at her as she stepped up next to him. “It's me. Open up.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. Like that's anymore respectful than what I said.”
“It is, because they know who I am.”
The door slid open to the right. As soon as it moved, Crow darted around and pushed his way through the crack. He stopped dead inside. There was a large dirt clearing, lined with gravel as it worked around the edges to twelve large white buildings. It looked like medical research facilities. The place was eerily quiet.
“Now,” Lucy asked, stepping up next to him. “Do you want that assassin of yours, or a change of clothes first?”
“No, I'm fine.” Crow shook his hand dismissively at her. “Where is he?”
“Just to be clear,” she took in a breath, holding her left hand up in front of Crow's face to try and calm him. “We are talking about a pale young man with red eyes and black hair?”
“As red as a dianthus.” Crow spoke clearly.
Lucy nodded, pursing her lips. She was quiet for a moment while she thought .“I believe he's in the infirmary sulking.” She gestured with her arm to the right, then led Crow across the dirt.
The two walked into a plain building up a ramp. Inside was a single wide hallway going straight to the back, where off to the left and right were narrower hallways.
“Left is the OR and ER, and right is the general post-op and infirmary.” Lucy explained as they stepped around to the right, heading down the second hallway.
They hardly had to take five steps before they came up to the door. She knocked softly then opened it. Everything made Crow ill – it was all white and beige; Everything around, right down to the silence, reminded Crow of the infirmaries back in the barracks. Inside the next room, which was wide and open, the two passed several open beds, heading toward a cluster on the far left that were surrounded by white curtains.
Lucy checked into each one quietly, then stepped around to the third. After peeking in, she waved Crow over. “Better hurry before the nurses check in.”
“That's the plan.” Crow said in a quiet voice, nodding with a grimace on his face. He slipped between the fabric into the small sectioned off area.
Crow took in a breath as he felt his shoe squelch inside, his toes being bashed with cold water all over again. He glared down to the wet leg, then looked back up to the sleeping figure. Akiio was laying on his back, looking exceptionally whiter than normal, his head was propped up with a thin pillow. His eyes looked sunken in, exaggerated by the dark circles hanging underneath his black lashes. His black hair looked unkempt, matching the spots of dirt on his black blazer. The rest of his body was covered in an off-white blanket.
Crow let out a sigh, frowning as he looked over Akiio's face again. He took a few steps closer, stepping over to the edge of the bed. As he got closer, Crow was able to see that Akiio was still wearing his earring on his right ear: a silver vertical bar several inches long, yet thin.“You should stop travelling through the rift and use the doors.”
Akiio opened his mouth to respond, but his voice took a few seconds to sound. “I have a 1% chance of seeing them now.”
Biting the edge of his lip inside his mouth, Crow stopped himself from snapping at Akiio's lethargic and solemn tone. “…Phyte'll help you. Actually, he wanted you to come help Isaac.”
“Heaven never helps the men who will not act.” Akiio grumbled, rolling away from Crow while yanking the blanket up over his head.
Irritation struck through Crow, his final strand of patience snapped. “How dare you take the phrase of the Acurians literally,” he snapped, briskly stepping around the foot of the bed. With one hand he grabbed the blanket and yanked it with full force off. “You louse – piece of shit as tall as the highest mountains west of the capital.” Akiio rolled onto his back, shifting up onto his elbows to swing his right fist at Crow. Crow grabbed his wrist, leaned over him until they were nose-to-nose, and shouted straight into his face, “Now get the fuck up off your ass and save your boyfriend!” His eyes gleamed gold out of anger.
Akiio shouted back without missing a beat, extending his arms to either side of his body. “Look where I am right now, Crow! I am in a hospital!”
Crow jerked Akiio by his collar to knock some sense into him. “I said Isaac's in trouble! Don't you care?”
“If I could get up I would be already there.” Akiio answered coldly. He dropped his hand onto Crow's wrist and tried to squeeze his bones together, but he had no strength.
At that response, Crow shoved Akiio back down while he straightened up off him. “You're heartless.”
“Use your brain.” Akiio cursed at him.
Crow turned away from him, propping his hands on his hips. He took in a breath to try and calm down, his eyes reverting to blue. If Akiio's stuck its cause he can't travel – too much energy used and he can't see the doors? But why be here? To get a memory? “You can't see the memory?”
“I can.” Akiio answered imediately. “I can't get to it.”
“Too much energy used travelling the rift to get here.” Crow mused, straightening his back.
“Something like that.”
“And you can't see the doors?”
“Phyte will return the sight once I pick up this memory.”
Biting the edge of his tongue, Crow asked. “Where is it?”
“Deeper in the forest.” Crow turned around to look at him. Akiio looked frail and worn. Just sitting upright looked like it was challenging him. “It's in a tree. A bird nest.”
“Cozy family plot.” Crow nodded. Yep. I recall climbing trees and buildings to fetch memories. The worse was when bee had built their hive around one. He lifted his eyes to meet Akiio's red ones. “What if… I got it?”
“How would you see it?”
“Dunno. I could carry you there.”
Akiio's normally controlled poker face paled, showing his distinct worry. We'd have to work together with full cooperation. “You intend to pick it up? With Invictus?”
“Uh, yeah It's gonna be fun.”
Although Crow spoke lightly, his expression showed how much he was worried about trusting Akiio like this. They'd been Phyte's top retrievers for years together, and during none of that time did they get along without a third party, Isaac, present.