Formed by the Lacuna Troika;
With no Sun, Moon nor Stars.
Built by the Spirit of Demiurge,
The dwelling of War and Aesthetics,
A bright Metropolis off Existence edge;
September 30th, 199.
The Highlands; Dusk.
“…and then, the teacher said ‘Yaz legends aren’t real! There’s no such thing at Naitre Tower.’ And then, Rubi leaped onto her table and said the same! So, I smiled and said-” Yaz went silent as he heard his mom scream.
It struck the youth deep. Inside his very spirit. A spear hurled through metaphysical shields, shattering barriers he hadn’t been aware were in place to be broken. He knew, instantly upon hearing it, that the scream would echo for the rest of his life in his unconscious. It was a raw, primal sound. A striking screech of panicking despair.
Before his mind could fathom how to handle such a sound, he forced himself to move. It felt surreal. Like he wasn’t there. As if his existence would rather be anywhere else, anyone else, than what it was right now. His tiny feet rushed across the dark teal rug. His shoulder bumped on the cabinet against the dining room wall. Memorabilia shook inside. He knew, instantly upon entering the hallway, that the sight would reflect in his unconscious for the rest of his life.
His mom, Ula Godou-Amentrope, the strongest woman he’d ever known, was prostrate on the floor. The bottom of her blue ankle-length skirt was hitched up. Nimble fingers clutched the garment so tight her knuckles went pale. She dripped tears to the welcoming matt below. Obscured by the dusky gloom and blankets of rain, a bloodied Zarat Icewood loomed over her. Broad shouldered, with a hard, determined face. A determined face touched with sadness.
Yaz had known just by the screech. The scene before him only confirmed it. Made it real.
Yarrow Amentrope, his father, was dead.
September 30th, 199.
The Highlands; Early Night.
Yaz’s mom came from the kitchen, carrying a tray with some Urgent sodas and turkey sandwiches. She placed it on the glass coffee table, joining Yaz on the couch. She seemed tired as she sat. Weighted. Her features were still striking to look at but didn’t have their usual flare. Like she’d lost something. A small part of herself.
She made a soft yelp, ran to the kitchen, and came back with some cookies. Yaz frowned. Maybe it was her coping mechanism. Keeping busy to handle the grief. Doing whatever there was to do. Especially when she had to do everything now. He looked up at Zarat, darkly.
The man was on the sectional opposite Yaz, legs crossed ankle-on-knee. Normally he looked old even for an old guy. The evening hadn’t done him any favors. His gray afro was wet, sagging. There were cuts and rips across his dark-blue turtleneck. Something had burned off the entire left leg of his slacks, exposing the wrinkled, brown skin beneath. There were no burn scars, but beneath his knee was a nasty, large gash. And he had a bullet wound in his cheek.
Yaz examined the wound. Though he was only eight, his father had come home many times displaying his fight scars, bragging on how he’d gotten them. So, Yaz wasn’t afraid to look. And he also knew it was fresh. When he stared long enough he realized that, beneath the dried blood, he could see white. Teeth. The shot had gone straight through Zarat’s jaw. Yet, he was still casually sitting on the sectional in his living room. Telling him his dad was dead.
Zarat looked at Yaz using only his eyes, without turning his head. It was kinda creepy. They were red and swollen. Yaz looked away. From the corner of his view, Yaz saw the old man pick up a sandwich and start chewing. With his other hand he reached out and grabbed a second. A new hand, much paler in skin tone gently lifted a third.
“These are what’s up, Ula. Thank you.” Zarat said.
“Yes, they’re very good. So kind of you. You didn’t have to. At… at a moment like this.” The second voice trailed off. It was a nice voice. It belonged to Alerio, The Highlands’ Elan Vital. Lieutenant O2G (Double OG), second in command, of Period Realms Incorporated.
The PRI. Strongest gang in the Highlands. Led by the Spirit of The Highlands himself, Zarat Icewood. O3G (Triple OG). ‘Determined’. The Boundless Cavern. A man, supposedly, of endless strength. Yaz balked. He pushed the Urgent soda tray away. Ula glanced at him; her eyes sad. She did her best to offer an empathetic smile. Yaz lowered his head, slouching into the sofa.
“It’s not a problem.” Ula’s voice was soft. She turned her head to the men. “So, Zarat, tell me, how did Yarrow… how did he die?” She glanced at Yaz. “Use your church voice, please.” She added, before Zarat could respond. The old man nodded and began.
“We were up against Medicina. Deep in her own turf. They ambushed us. Opore and Alerio fell to the rear, opening a path of retreat. Me and Yarrow held the frontlines. We managed to push Medicina back. Got her down. Didn’t want to give her a chance to recover, so we turned and hightailed it. Almost got away too.” He paused, staring at the ground.
But then you didn’t. Yaz thought to himself.
Quiet. Alerio stirred in his seat, adjusting his fedora. He seemed uncomfortable, like he didn’t deserve to be here. Yaz was inclined to agree. Zarat fished through his pockets, looked towards Ula for confirmation, and lit a cigarette. He continued after a few short drags.
“Medicina caught us off guard. She’s a fucking nuke, you know? …Well, she was. Yarrow was the fastest to react. Hit her as hard as she hit him. Took out the block just from impact. They both fell. Neither got up.” Zarat took another drag of his cigarette. Slow this time, the tip combusting into a long pole of ash, as if he were determined to smoke it all in one go. “Always told the kid he could knock-out a Prosaic. Wasn’t too far off the mark.”
Ula smiled softly, eyes teary. Yaz shuddered a bit at mention of the Prosaics but held his composure. Sadness kept the fear of ancient boogeymen at bay. He knew of Vidri Medicina, Ca Spirit of Suroestre. From the stories the kids told at school, and DC&C’s reporting, she was indeed a monster. A living, breathing one. At least, she used to be. Yaz was eight. He figured if he knew this an adult definitely should. Let alone Spirit Zarat Icewood.
“A joke?” Yaz’s voice was quiet.
“Sunny?” Ula asked.
“My dad is dead and he’s telling a fucking joke!?” He knew he wasn’t supposed to use foul language, but he couldn’t quite help himself. He hoped his mom would forgive him.
“Oh, Yaz, this isn’t like you. I know it’s difficult. It’s going to keep being difficult. But, think of Yarrow, think of your father. His spirit is always with us in Æon Änim. He’s here, in this very room. He wouldn’t want you to lose yourself in grief.”
Yaz was sitting up now, his chest heaving. Tears pouring. She was right. His mom was right. If his father were here, he would think exactly that. He’d lean down, place one hand on his shoulder and say, “Angry? Come on, where’s that smile, Yaz? You’re my sunny boy!”
“No!” Yaz yelled, standing and swinging his arm. The tray was pitched from the table. Urgent soda splashed onto the wooden floor. She was right. But, his dad wasn’t there. No hands could reach out and touch his shoulder from Æon Änim. No voice, escaping from a knockout grin, could talk from the other side and tell him to smile, beckoning his ‘sunny disposition’.
“No! This isn’t okay! He shouldn’t be dead!” Yaz yelled louder. His mind was consumed with raw grief and those, ruefully few, knockout memories. Zarat watched him, brows furrowed determinedly. The tiniest motes of translucent, black particles fell from the boy’s skin.
“Yaz…” His mom reached for him, but Yaz wrenched away from her grip. He turned towards Zarat.
“This is your fault! And his!” He pointed to Alerio, who looked at his feet. “But you! You’re the Spirit of the Highlands! You’re Zarat Icewood! If my dad could knockout one Prosaic, you should be able to beat all three!”
The room was quiet for a while. The loudest sound to Yaz was his own breathing. The heavy drumming of his heart. The Urgent soda spill was spreading. Swigtowne’s delight, wasted on a living room floor in The Highlands. Some type of irony? He couldn’t be sure, but Alerio seemed to be sobbing. Some part of Yaz felt bad. Most parts of him felt angry, mournful.
“Zarat, Alerio… I’m- I’m sorry.” Ula said gently.
“No, no, Ula, it’s fine.” Zarat waved her away. With a distressed sigh, he turned to Yaz. “Listen, Yaz, I get that you’re angry. I understand why. But, you just don’t know what’s up-”
“Oh, I know what’s up.” Yaz cut him off. He was frowning, voice petulant. He knew, despite his best efforts, that he sounded like a whining child. He was a whining child.
“Maybe so, kid. But, it isn’t that easy to be strong enough to protect everything. To never let anyone down.” Zarat sounded weak then. A feeling that felt odd emanating from him. From a Spirit. Someone who, in Yaz’s mind, wasn’t only just human. They had always seemed more.
“I don’t know about any of that. But, I know a lot of things.” Yaz folded his arms, staring at the Urgent soda flow. Ripples appeared in the sugary liquid’s surface as movements in the room caused shaking; tiny tsunamis upon a miniature Wahala Ocean. The chandelier above reflected in the little tides, like a small beacon.
“What do you mean, Yaz?” Alerio this time, gently. The man was looking up at Yaz now. He’d certainly been crying and hadn’t escaped the fight unscathed. There was a sickly-looking gouge above his left eye. A weapon just barely missed taking it out. Had it succeeded, he would’ve been left with none.
“I…” Yaz fumbled with the words, “I know what my dad fought for!”
He felt the mood in the room alter. Tensions tighten. Zarat, showing no emotion, looked from his mother, to him, and then back again. Ula, meanwhile, was staring at Yaz with a strikingly shocked expression. They’d be able to tell she hadn’t known.
“He was a Double OG of PRI, Essence of The Highlands.” Zarat responded determinedly.
“No, not that. I know what he really fought for… To make the sun rise.” Yaz let the last words fall from his lips at a whisper. He wasn’t exactly being honest. He didn’t understand or fully grasp the specifics. Lots of missing pieces. Still, saying even that felt odd. Dangerous. Speaking of that mysterious thing people called the ‘Sun’, that was a dangerous subject to broach in Etre City.
No one spoke. Ignoring the eyes of the adults around him, having only half an idea of what he’d just admitted, Yaz thought about his dad. About those long nights of training, the late talks of Metropolitics, the stupid jokes. Being his sunny boy. He tried desperately to condense eight year-old memories of one great man’s knockout existence into permanent fixtures of his thoughts. He remembered the brilliant spirit of Yarrow Amentrope. He was connected to him only by death now, within the Æon Änim. When he spoke, it was through body wracking sobs.
“I want to see the sun rise. I want to see the morning. I-I-I wanna be my dad’s sunny boy!” He craned his neck. “I want to smile at dawn…” Head back, tears leaking, Yaz Amentrope smiled at the sky. “Naitre Tower… a legend? Doesn’t matter. I’ll reach the top. For you… dad.”
Outside, The Highlands were dark. The beacon’s shine didn’t reach till noon. A remiss dawn.