Free Fall
Start writing a post
Entertainment

Free Fall

Quindici: Clan

286
Free Fall
www.pexels.com

The figure gazed at the metropolis as he disembarked from his taxi cab. This city seemed to change every time he visited. Chuckling to himself, he made to enter his hotel when he heard the obvious sounds of distress from a dark alley to the side. He hastened to whence it emanated and saw a man wearing inconspicuous clothing and a woman no older than 25 in a deep red evening dress. There was a gun in the man's hand but he wasn't wielding it. His head lolled to the side and his arms were bound to his side by what was evidently a sash. One of his hands was pinned to the wall behind with a wickedly sharp high heel.

The figure took it all in and turned to leave - she had it all handled.

He strolled back to his hotel and entered as if nothing was wrong; he would not step into a matter that clearly neither involved not required him.

***

The next day, the figure rose with the moon and stepped out to enjoy the night air when he heard the tick-tack of heels, the faint rustle of a dress. "You left."

He turned around; her dress was a deep blue tonight. "I did."

"Why?" Her tone was not unconfident. It was one of genuine curiosity mixed with certainty in her own actions.

A smirk found its way onto his face. 'Did you want me to stay?"

It seemed he was not the only one who would smirk that night. "No."

"I thought so."

"Good. You're smarter than ninety percent of the population."

"Only ninety percent?"

"Don't push it. I might make it eighty."

"You wound me."

"You know that's not how I wound."

"Maybe not the only way."

"And what about you? How do you go after your prey?" He felt something at her unintentional use of the word which was so true for him.

"Charm of course."

"Leaving a woman with her would-be attacker doesn't ooze charm, sir."

"But you didn't want it."

"Who says I appreciate charm?"

"Maybe not the usual kind."

"Maybe no kind."

"We can find out."

"Who says I want you to know?"

"Maybe you'll decide."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I'll respect that. Now, it's a nice night; I'm in a city I wasn't in last night; I met someone new. Would I be so wrong in wanting to spend time with them, getting to know the city?"

"Depends."

"On?"

"You."

"Well then, I can assure you I want nothing more than good company and I'll promise to be the same."

"No."

"No?"

"Yes."

"Where to?"

"Downtown. Start there and see where time takes us." She turned around and lead the way. After a moment's pause, he followed and lengthened his strides until they were side by side. As they walked, they exchanged witty banter mixed with commentary on the places they saw. After they had taken the customary walk around town square, the conversation turned to food at the sight of all the food stalls that lined one of the adjoining streets. He asked her what she would absolutely recommend above all else in the city, something that was authentically local. Without a moment's hesitation she had lead the way down street after street, around corner after corner until they were in an alley with tall, shambling buildings on either side - they weren't in a touristy place anymore that was for sure. She grinned at him and walked over to the building on their left; reaching up even with her heels on, she tapped twice, knocked thrice, and slapped the building once. Then, she stepped back and looked right at the window.

It opened to reveal a large man with a bar handle mustache. "Back again, are you?"

"Yes, I am. Trust me, it's sooner than I expected as well but this gentleman wanted the best authentic food - where else could I take him?"

"Nowhere else and you know that. Now, come on in - you know the way."

"Thank you." The window closed and she turned back to her companion.

"Gentleman?"

"Well, you've acted gentlemanly and around here you're either a gentleman or a perpetrator and you don't seem the latter. Now come on or he'll assume you are and you don't want to see that." She softened her words with a grin but her eyes betrayed her honestly.

"Alright, let's see what you brought me here for." He grinned back.

She turned and walked back a few paces until she reached a drain that scaled the length of the building and started to climb it - not an easy feat in her attire but she made it look like it was - perhaps it was for her or perhaps she was not accustomed to the luxury of discomfort. The figure on the ground stood in shock until he motioned to him to climb up. He followed her example and soon they were halfway up; at this point; she moved one hand from the pipe to a nearby window sill, then shifted herself towards the hand, letting go of the pipe. She scaled the building sideways and he followed until they were above the window the man had appeared from. Rather than dropping down, she kicked it twice before climbing up again, using window sills on a building like outcroppings on a mountain. He paralleled her movements until they were on the roof; there, she hurried across with her head ducked low to the roof access door which she opened with a knife she produced from somewhere on her person before he even got there. Once the door was open, she ducked inside and had him follow her before closing and locking the door with a knife. By the time she turned back, the knife was gone again. Hastening down the stairs, she moved silently in her stilettoes, something he had not known was possible until now. As he followed her down steps and more steps, going down occasional halls and rare corners, he wondered just what he had gotten himself into.

Finally she stopped in front of a door like the countless others they had passed; so sudden and abrupt was the cease in motion that he nearly slammed into her; she obviously sensed this as she turned ever so slightly his way with the whispers of a grin on her face. Then, she touched the door, a whisper of a knock. The door opened a crack, enough for a single eye to peek, then it swung further until one small person could squeeze themselves in. His companion entered with a grace that shouldn't surprise him after this night but he couldn't figure out how a human would do that - and her heartbeat was the essence of humanity. It spoke of a desire to continue, to yearn, to learn, but also an incomprehensible fear of losing what was known; a fear that was mostly excitement but had an undeniable undercurrent of primal terror. He followed her in and noticed his companion was embracing the person who had let them in; giving them the privacy he felt all were entitled to, he took in the chamber he had entered. It was dark, barely lit by light from underneath the door to another room. Damp and chill crept in and the entire room felt like fear and death. He felt moved near tears; her countenance displayed nothing but her heart's beat told another story, but that might have something to do with the one who had opened the door - a painfully thin 20ish year old who stood at 6 foot 10, but couldn't have weighed more than 90 pounds; his startling blue eyes seemed to pop out of his emaciated face, cheekbones the closest thing to cheeks he had; his skin was covered with a motley assortment of bruises and scars where it wasn't covered by raggedy clothes, but signs of his suffering were not all superficial - even after having listened to hearts for as long as he had, he could not make out a rhythm for this man's; it was also evident he had had some sort of respiratory illness as his lungs forced air in and out, but he embraced her with strength. They were whispering to each other and though he tried to tune them out, he physically couldn't weaken his hearing.

"You're here."

"Yes."

"How?"

"I snuck out but I have to go back"

"You can run away."

"I can't. He would come after everyone. Everyone here, you, everyone."

She brushed some hair out of his face. "You don't have to give yourself up to save us."

He smiled back, a bittersweet sign of affection and resignation. "If it comes down to it, I will always protect you all. I know you have no reason to want me to lead, but it's who I was meant to be - I come from a long line that was good before it was bad; I have to restore it to good."

She hugged him; he disappeared in her. "You don't have to live making up for your ancestor's mistakes."

He smiled ruefully. "No, I just have to lay in the bed they left me. But I'll change it. I'll build it anew if I have to."

"Being a leader doesn't mean you take all punishment."

"But it does and that's what they forgot. Now, come on, you're not here to talk about this." He raised his voice and moved to include the figure. "You've brought a guest and we must show him the best. Would I be wrong in presuming you're here to eat."

He could hardly comprehend how quickly he jumped from topic to topic; a human would never have known what he was just discussing. He was filled with respect for this hero- and he was a hero- and played along. "That was the plan, but I'm open to change."

The younger man chuckled. "Come on." He motioned to the door with his hand and moved to hold it open. The lady nodded to the figure who lead the way into the lit room; he noticed her touch the other's arm as she moved. Once the door had shut, she reached for his hand.

The figure only noticed this in the periphery as he aimed to maintain focus on the room. It was bathed in golden glow and filled with a comforting heat from the stove atop which a pot emanated smells of home. There was a man minding the stove and a woman chopping something with her back turned; they looked like normal from where he stood, but he had come to expect something unique about everyone he would meet this night. His companion guaranteed that.

"Erik, is that you?"

"Well it is me, but Latia is also here - and she brought a guest. Or well, I guess he brought her."

The man and woman turned at that; they smiled at his companion, Latia, and embraced her. They then looked at him. The woman spoke first. "Leslia Armtofak and this is my husband Arnold. And who may you be?"

"A wandering soul who happened upon..."

"You're wondering if Latia is our daughter, aren't you?" The woman smiled at him. "We're not - biologically at least. But we are in every other way - and that matters more to us than genetics."

The figure could only nod. "That's the kind of philosophy and definition that matters."

The woman smiled her approval. "I'm glad you feel that way. Now come, tell me why you're here; I know it's to eat, but what did you tell Latia to get her to bring you here."

"I asked her where I could sample something that truly belonged here, that was the essence of here in food."

"Well, you'll get that here - but it won't be a sample mind you." She chuckled at the end in that way matronly people do and have always done. "Now, dinner's almost ready - why don't you take a seat?"

"I can't possibly sit while you all work."

"Very well." She smiled in approval.

That evening, our figure learned just how things worked around there. Everyone pitched in - Arnold ran the show, working culinary magic while everyone supported him. Finally, once Erik set the last plate, they all settled in to eat. Everyone looked at him for a minute before Erik spoke. "It is our custom that the guest eats first."

An avid lover of culture and custom, our figure took the first bite and was mesmerized. Thousands of flavors put on a great show upon his palate. There were actors and dancers and stage managers and tech crew and the stage itself along with lighting and sound and audience. When he came back to reality, he noticed the others had dug in as well. After they all finished, everyone pitched in in cleaning up and they were done before long. Only now did he notice that there was one other room which must be the bedroom judging form the scent of lotions and soaps that he could smell with his heightened senses. Everyone returned to the table and conversation started.

"How did you like your foray into our culture?"

"It was absolutely amazing. Not just the food though it was excellent - the company is unbeatable."

Erik's face fell slightly and he squirmed at this but he hid it after a second. Leslia apparently noticed it too for she spoke up. "That is our way and everyone here follows it."

What would have been said next will never be known for a loud booming sound came from the damp entry room. Erik momentarily paled but stood up. When he spoke, his voice was stable, even. "I'll get it." As he walked, he turned off the light and shut the door tightly behind him, enveloping them in darkness but also leaving them undetectable. Everyone sat silently and listened intently.

"Knew you'd be here boy!" A man spoke in a nasty tone.

"Look, don't hurt anyone. I'll come."

"I won't hurt them - you, though, are another story."

Erik's heart rate sped up, then slowed drastically. A thud was heard, and this seemed like the final straw that got them all to go to the entry room. When he had followed the others out to the damp room, he knew the reason for the speed and slowing: the young man was unconscious on the floor; his shirt had ridden up revealing a large bruise on his shrunken abdomen. Latia evidently knew what it was for she asked about where to get professional help, but there was a man there - a large man who laughed at her expression.

"I'll take care of him."

"No you won't! You did this to him."

"And if I want to do it again, I need to make sure he'll survive, right? Though, he'll probably get better on his own in a couple days."

"Keep him alive to torture him. You would do that." Her voice was pure ice.

"Careful now or you'll make it all for naught. How he raves about protecting all of you, fixing the past by shining the future by fighting the now. But he never fights me - he knows what'll happen if he does. Ciao now. I've got a man to save...so I can destroy him." Laughing, he picked Erik up and tossed him carelessly over his shoulder; the sudden movement brought the man back to consciousness. This brought with it an emptying of the gut - which turned out to be mainly blood and bile pouring over the large man's rather expensive suit. "You stupid boy! You're gonna pay for that!" The man stomped out. Latia looked like she was going to follow him, but Arnold placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and shook his head.

"He'll be alright. This isn't the first time Hincher has hurt him bad enough to cause internal bleeding - he does it every other week these days. Lucky this time it's not with anything else. Two months ago it was especially bad." Leslia spoke worriedly.

"This has been happening regularly and no-one thought to tell me." Latia's voice remained even.

"What could you have done if you had known?"Leslia comforted her.

"Gotten him out."

"You can't disregard his wishes like that."

"His wishes don't matter if they kill him."

"They're all that boy has, his wishes and his motive to fix things, to get us back to where we were. Don't you see? After all his predecessors did that got us here, he feels it's his responsibility, his birth-burden to get us away. It's admirable. You're too young to know this, but our people have wished for them to see what was happening, and now one finally has. He's the last of his family, the family we all pledged loyalty to. They formed us from vagabonds and they lead us to conquest. Then they fell for all the trappings they could, and they dragged us all down with them as they had dragged us up. I'm not saying that we didn't earn that rise, but every army has a general and they our ours. He's the first worthy one after a long drought of those, and it's our responsibility by birth to listen to him and follow his leadership. He's giving everything up so he can do this - pay off his family's debts which our all of our debts but incurred by them, fix relationships, move forward. He's doing all this to move forward, to move us up, and the least we can do is let him and support him. So don't dare get him out or you'll be going against everything we ever were." This was the first time he had ever heard Arnold speak and he was inspired by the man; his resonant voice made his powerful words all the more potent. It was chilling in an awe-inspiring kind of way.

"Well then, I should be leaving." Latia made to move towards the door.

"You don't have to do that." Leslia spoke up

"I can't stay here and have a great time while he suffers for us."

"That's what he wants, why he's doing it. Besides, it's not safe for one of us out there- not tonight. Stay tonight or you'll make him suffer more. What's more, you deserve happiness - you shouldn't punish yourself." Leslia turned to the outsider in the room. "You shouldn't leave either. I know this isn't your battle, but it's dangerous out there for someone seen here."

"I couldn't impose."

"No, you wouldn't be imposing. Please stay. this city has seen to much killing, too much violence. Looking out for each other isn't imposing; it's humanity."

He knew he would be safe, but Leslia looked at him so earnestly he couldn't refuse, and giving away his secret was a non-option. "Thank you."

"We owe you an explanation and we will give it to you...in the other room." Leslia lead them back to the room they had eaten in; though the same lights were turned on and the room had not lost heat, it was not as comforting as it once was. Yet, they sat the table and Arnold started speaking.

"Generations ago there were many wandering clans; these clans were small, tightknit, most consisted of one family unit. They survived, lived happily, but they were to going anywhere; they were stagnant and often suffered from whatever misfortune afflicted the times; they would hunger for years after a drought; many times, one would suffer while the others would thrive. It was unequal at any given point, but in summation, everyone suffered. A few moments of happiness made most forget, but one of the clans was known for their memory, their reasoning, and their observations; they kept detailed records and took account of everything; they thought of what could happen and how they could fix everything. At great risk, for these clans while on agreeable terms did not get along very well, they got everyone together and though they were laughed at and even threatened, they managed to get everyone together through reason and logic. Now, it is important to know that in those days, everyone defended themselves and their people from invaders and unknowns; there were allies, yes, but the need for allies arose from countless enemies a, and this alliance started off as defending against enemies and sharing a minimal amount in case of emergency striking another clan; however, under the leadership of those who got them together, the Ciciero's, this alliance became a larger clan where people got together to share in joy and happiness; they started wandering near other clans of their alliance. After many years, and a few generations , this alliance became a clan in itself. Much larger than traditional clans and each original clan bringing its own talents, this new clan, this family became stronger and more powerful than every other clan and soon rose to the top. With power came enemies and their road to the top was not smooth; many sacrifices were made, but in the end they were atop the world. eventually, other families also formed from clans and the first were not the only. To compound complication, the Ciciero began to fall to folly, engaging in acts that would only hurt them and their entire clan. Over time, more and more was lost until the group was reduced to living in the slums of the city their ancestors had conquered, built from the ground up. They hoped for a day when a Ciciero would see the error of their ways, and that day came. It came much too late for many hopers who have now moved beyond, but much too early for the one who realized. He was ten years old when his father gathered his belongings and invited him to his study; there he told him of what he now had to do. All that is known to ears that do not belong to those men is that the youngest Ciciero had to take charge and lead his people. He was informed of all debts to be paid off, all alliances broken, grudges created. This was a Ciciero still in the youth and goodness of childhood, but he was also a good man - at ten years of age, exactly a decade old for it was his tenth birthday that saw all these events, he took the mantle of leader. He became a leader not seen in centuries from the Ciciero. Less than a year into his quest to fix all the wrongs that had occurred, he found himself taken by a rival gang - a payment of debts in human form. That boy juggled slavery, abuse, and leadership in a seemingly impossible way; he moved with grace and elegance, and never lost his motivation. He still does. You just met him. Erik Ciciero is the leader we all need to get out of this horror, but to be that he has to go through horror himself." Our figure was spellbound, silenced by this great tale of bravery and loneliness and conquest and failure and failure and fall and strength and struggle; over his long life he had learned that every story had these elements; every person fought their own battle, and yet this was more potent than anything he had heard before; perhaps, it was because he had met these people, had seen how happy and normal they could be; maybe it was because their struggle seemed like it belonged to a time far before theirs. All he knew was that he was filled with a desire to help; he felt kinship towards these people, empathy with their story. Perhaps Leslia noticed this for she spoke up.

"We are not exclusive to those first families, you know. Our story is moving and many have not heard it, but with you, we all felt something. Erik hinted at it when he spoke of our custom; it is a signal our leaders have used for centuries to indicate they would approve of our initiating the guest in their absence; it is a ' I will support your decision; don't worry about that; do what you have to'. Would you like to join us?"

"I do not know if I would do justice -"

"Do not worry about that. I can see in your eyes you want to help; you fell kinship towards us, don't you? Forgive me, I have always been a reader of people."

"I would be honored then. How do I join?"

Leslia smiled warmly. "You just did."

And os our figure became part of a culture and people unlike any he had met before. These were a close-knit band of thieves, well osme of them were. They're bond was not so much shared morals as shared heritage. He elarned that some of them lived lavishly, others moderately, and like the ones he had found himself with, in the slums. They were all grateful that none of hteir number was so destitute as to not have a roof over their head, and worked to maintain that noe waould be, but the days of sharing wealth were long gone. He learned that this was one of the things Erik wanted to reinstate, but felt he ahd to prove himself before doing so; thye did not see the young man often; in fact, his appearance had mbeen a surprise to all. He mamanged to check in and issue orders every now and then, and every time he came, he looked worse, but what could be done? This was the only way their enemies agreed to have debts repaid, and Erik was aadamant that they be repaid so everyone could move forward. There was good news on that front though for he was in his last year of service. Upon learning this, Latia had expressed joy - a rare break from her stoic mask; the only other time the figure had seen it happen was when Erik had been hurt. Her only resonse to his tactfully mentioned observation was less than five words. "We were kids together." This had been said when they were alone in the city, exploring. It was their nightly ritual; they would both get back from their days; meet and eat with Leslia and Arnold, then head out. Latia, it turned out worked in corporate espionage and found it especially entertaining to see her clients and marks in what she called their natural environment.

It was on one of these evenings that she turned to him just as they finished a lap around the central square of the city. "What are we?" It was such a moment of honesty and question that our figure had to blink to be cognizant of what was occurring.

"What do you mean?"

She shrugged. "What are we? We go out every night; we tell stories; I know more about you than I know about anyone and you know more about me than anyone. We comfort each other and we're always thinking of seeing the other. E buy each other dinner and surprise each other with gifts, big and small. You've always been there for me when I've needed it and I try ot be thre for you. Yet, we haven't given us a name yet and I think we need to have this conversation. Who are we? What are we?"

"We can be whatever you want."

"No, don't say that. Don't take the easy way out. Don't put this all on me. This is us. Both of us. So let's discuss it."

He put an arm around her, awed by the fire in her eyes. "Alright. We're two people who can't imagine life without each other. We're two people meant to be side by side. That's all we have to be. We don't need labels or justifications; that's all we need to be. Two individuals who were never really friends, but had to be together; who made each other whole. If you really want a name, then we can have any that you want. but for me, we're something real, authentic, and natural. We're honesty and purity and the innocence of a butterflies first flight; were the cocoon and the caterpillar; we're the stars that your eyes outshine; we're the ocean I can't forget. We're the secrets you keep; we're the stories we tell and the ones we don't We're the way the sun catches your hair and the way the rain dances on our faces; we're everyone we've met and everyone we want to. We're who we are and that's all we have to be."

"I'd rather be those than a name."

"Then let's be us." He held out his arm.

"Let's." She hooked her arm in his and they strolled through the city, taking turns and going up and down; he felt like singing. He hadn't felt like this for a very long time; she was the first one since the first, and he felt over the moon that there had been no one in between; they were so different, yet both had something unmeasurably unique and powerfrul about them; he was captivated by them; he felt all those things one is said to feel in love, but there was nolove-sickness about it; he felt independent in the most united way. Life in love truly was an oxymoron that made everything clear.

As time passed, they all fell into routine strengthened continually by time and habit. Finally, the day dawned upon which Erik was supposed to be free. They woke to a new phenomena.

The door burst open to reveal Erik standing there, bloody, bruised, favoring one leg, even more emaciated than before, but energized. "I've been doing a lot of thinking and there's no point in our staying here anymore. We should get out. At least that's what I believe. You don't have to follow me, or do what I think is right. I've no right to that; my family wasted that. Don't be unhappy; you all deserve so much more and I'm sorry you didn't get that, your ancestors didn't get that. You're free from this tie to my family."

"We'll stick to our ancestors' decision; they were wise. Your family is wise and selfless - good qualities in a leader. I'm not saying that there weren't generations that went astray but you embody the very good they saw. We're with you. Where are we going?"

"There's a place, a city, a new one, not far from here. We can go there. Should be a month's travel on foot which is the only kind we can risk. Latia gather the others - get help from our newest member; have him go with you or split up who to go to; however you do it, just get it done. Arnold prepare everything we'll need. Leslia find out anything you can about Berisia and the route to get there." Erik had all the aspects of a leader about him as he gave orders; he was born to do this, to know what everyone did best and have them do it, to take command in a crisis. Everyone apparently thought so too for they all made to do as he had asked. Arnold disappeared inside somewhere, getting things together. Leslia knelt to the ground and tugged off a piece of carpet, then removed a tile from the old floor underneath, revealing a trove of books, letters maps, anything you could glean information from really. Latia walked out the door expecting our figure to follow and follow he did.

"Off to find others?"

"Yes. Now, do you want to come with me or go to other sides of the city?"

"Hmm, let's see...do I want to walk around with a beautiful woman or do I want us to separate?" She giggled at his reply, then assumed somber outlook.

"This is serious."

"I know it is. And I think we should be together for this."

"You're just scared." She smirked.

"How would you feel that there's something to fear if you did not fear yourself?"

"Because I have the ability to empathize...? But let's get started. We'll start with the ones farthest away and work closer. That way, people from afar will start to get ready before the closer ones and start their journey before. It should save time, and Erik implied time was not on our side."

So she lead him away from the slums, to beautiful, well-manicured areas of the city where they knocked on doors answered by butlers and drank cucumber water while waiting for their hosts. As they spoke, they saw panic then preparedness; many were reluctant to leave behind all they had but in the end, all agreed. Their journey took them to other areas as well, mid-range neighborhoods where there was more concern about family and how to get everyone out, but in the end, they also all agreed. They ended up in slums where they convinced people with ease; it seemed they had been waiting for this moment and were only too happy to leave. He saw that this was a vast network indeed, and wondered at their readiness to accept a 20 year old as their leader after his family had been party to such decay to their party, but realized they knew that there were bad seeds in bad apples in every orchard, but Erik was none of those. They returned to the house after informing everyone and he found himself thinking of how they had made good time, but could have made better had he told her his secret, then he caught himself. His secret was major and this was no time to tell it. He had to take her feelings into account and telling her on such a night would be taking advantage or perhaps disadvantage of an unusual night.

"When they neared the apartment again, they found Leslia trying to bandage Erik's wounds - well one wound in particular as it was the one that was bleeding so profusely. "This is from a gun."

"It is."

"And you let us do everything else first?"

"I couldn't waste time."

"When will you understand? You're not a waste. We need you, Erik, we need our leader. And if you don't think about yourself, we're not going to have that. Don't take that away from us." Her impassioned speech had an effect for Erik's face became awash with guilt, more so than before.

"I'm sorry. I don't want to be a bother, and I don't want to take away what my family has taken."

"That's alright. You're so young. But you're everything a leader should be. Now, don't take this off, or replace it when you do and you'll be fine until we get there. And once we get there, you should get yourself checked out."

"Thank you."

She reached up and touched his face like a mother would her child's, but in a moment realized who both were and stepped back, looking away. Erik shifted, but it seemed he missed the touch.

Latia and the figure chose this moment to make their presence known, deciding silently to give the illusion they had just arrived.

"Its done,."

"Good." Erik nodded. "See if Arnold needs help, Latia. Leslia, and I may need a third opinion." He nodded to the figure. Latia left to find Arnold inside the kitchen or bedroom while the figure stayed behind. Erik knelt down followed by Leslia and then the figure. Spreading out a map, their leader pointed out . "This is the most frequently taken route. We should steer clear of it." He pointed something else out, quite a distance away from the first. "This is the route most criminals and vagabonds take to flee. We should also stay away from it." He indicated a line down the middle of the first two. "Our enemies will think we have thought this far and will sense we will take the route in the middle. they will check all three which is why we must stay away from them. He pointed t out a line between the middle and first route. "This is a safer route but it has many outposts and places for us to be sighted like small villages." He then pointed out another route, o equidistant from the center and second route. "This is the route we should take. It's far enough away from the ones they'll be searching that they won't accidently find us. It also is deserted, so we won't run into others who can tell of our whereabouts. However, this is also the most dangerous area of the land between the two cities. It's full of ravines and harsh weather; it's a strange place where weather phenomena are common. It's also home to many wild animals and the path is anything but smooth. On the other hand, these will also keep our enemies from pursuing us along this route; I doubt they hate us enough to risk it. Any comments?"

"You've given this a lot of thought haven't you?"

"I've always thought of this as a back-up. I've only just realized it could be our main plan; we don't have to stay here. Our ancestors built this yes, but they were somewhere else before that. they wandered and realized they would be happier here. I can't imagine they wouldn't want that for us."

"I'm for it." They turned to look at the third person in the room.

"I've traveled a lot,. this sounds like one of the most dangerous places I've heard of traveling but it seems it's also the only way we can go safely."

Erik nodded. "Go prepare however it is you prepare. Let Arnold and Latia know that they should do that once they're done too. I'm going to go get a few things arranged; I should be back before everyone else is. But once everyone arrives, don't wait longer than the point where the moon reaches its apex. If I'm not back by then, leave. Latia will be in charge until and if I meet you again. I'll try to catch up and meet you there, but don't stop and don't go slow." Seeing Leslia's concerned face, he hedged his words. "That shouldn't happen, but we must prepare for everything." With that he left followed by our figure who needed to feed before they left, for though they would be close to the vagabond trail (for him anyway), he did not wish to risk not having fresh human blood without being prepared. He could survive on animal blood or even without any blood for a month but it would be tricky and dangerous for his companions;; the last thing he wanted was to harm any of his new-found clan. Hurrying around the city, he drank from a plethora of sources both to satiate all possible needs and to fill himself to the brink without killing anyone. He was essentially storing excess blood for the month; he would have to be careful about using his powers but it could last him the entire month. He just had to pretend to be human. This wasn't something he had tried before, but it was worth the risk.

By the time he got back, Erik was already there. He had showered and changed; makeup and clothing hid what he had been through and gave an impression of a handsome youth from a well-off family; his dark brown hair had been cut and fell elegantly against his cheekbones contrasting sharply with his electric blue eyes; he was dressed in a blue-black suit and black dress shoes that matched his silk tie. The figure he cut was imposing and he looked every inch the leader he was. Or so an outsider would think. However, anyone who truly knew his story would argue that he did not need this; they would understand when he explained that this would make it easier to blend in, to leave and to arrive, and so they would once again be inspired by how he understood what others were thinking, and would reaffirm that their ancestors had made the right decision. Soon, Latia also stepped out; she was clad in a shiny black evening gown paired with funky black heels, her hair in a complex up-do and diamonds included in her makeup; our figure glanced self-consciously at his own black suit and corresponding attire; realizing, he fit in, he relaxed slightly; the last thing he wanted to do was attract untoward attention. Leslia and Arnold also made their way to the damp entry room wearing, in Leslia's case, a deep purple gown which flowed down to her feet where the toes of black heels could be seen; her blonde hair was free around her neck and shoulders, and in Arnold's case a pinstriped suit with dress shoes and tie. "Thank you for your punctuality. The others should be here soon. We must take into account they have quite a ways to travel; I trust Latia and co. reminded them it would be preferable to travel at the moon's apex as has been our custom."

"We did."

"And we're here." It seemed as though everyone had come at once. They were all shouldering bags and other loads; faces wary but ready. "You're the latest Ciciero, huh? Well you're doing something. Don't look like much though. Tell me, what was it like living in the lap of luxury while the people you were supposed to lead suffered?"

"I apologize for the pain my family has caused you. I aim to make things better for our people, but I know I cannot erase what has been done which is why I am giving you the freedom to be free of the fealty sworn to the Ciciero family. You can forge your own path."

"Betray our ancestors you mean? Well, boy, we aren't all as short in memory as you're lot are. Where's your family? Kill 'em to be in charge?"

"I assure you I had no part in any killing. My father decided it was his time to pass the baton to me and so he left."

"Left? Offed himself, did he?" The man began to chuckle.

"I do not know. All I know is that he told me I was in charge then left. He took a great deal of items with him, so I do not believe his purpose was suicide."

"And when was this?"

"Ten years ago?"

"And what have you been doing for the last decade? Partying?"

"Paying off our debts."

"And whose money did you use to do that?"

"No-body's."

"No-body's? How did you do that? Don't tell me you were stupid enough to forge ?

"They weren't interested in money."

"And what were they interested in, then?"

"What they received. Now, does anyone wish to leave or have any qualms? I know that our ancestors built this city, but they did so because they weren't receiving all the needed where they were and so left in pursuit of betterment; I cannot imagine they wouldn't want that for us; however, this is a chance to start anew in every respect; if you do not wish to come, if you wish to join a new clan or start your own one, or even be clan-less as is the vogue now in many places, you can do so."

"We won't betray our ancestors. And maybe you have what yours did." Murmurs of similar assent filled the room.

"Very well then. Let's take our leave then."

And so, the party stepped out; each member young and old and in the middle carrying their most precious items, things they could not live without. All items of value were with the young leader who carried those along his alongside his own items. They made their way out of the city without much trouble except at the border.

"Leaving, are you boy?" Hincher peered down at Erik. "I can tell it's you even though you've tried to cover your shame, your weakness, your patheticness. You'll never cover it. All you are is a weak coward, pathetic. And now you're proving it by running away. I should've broken both your legs so you couldn't disgrace the system this way, but maybe it's for the best. You and your entire clan running away like the weak fools you are; all you lot ever had was due to luck."

"We are leaving because that is the wisest course of action. We are not running away; we have nothing to run for. We are taking action and doing what we want; we are acting as a clan which is what the system has always stood for; the real system, not your perversion of it." Erik held his head high and looked at his tormentor with confidence and strength.

"Still running away fool."

"I've repaid the debts we owed you; you have no right to stop us or say anything about the matter."

"Coward. Fool. And all of you!" He raised his voice. "Are cowards and fools and pathetic for following him; you lot never stopped, muttering about ancestors in your loon houses! Hah! Your ancestors must hate you if they wanted you to listen to these lot! And now you're giving up on everything by following him out! Turn on him. Kill him, and I'll welcome each and every one of you into my clan!"

"We stand with the leader of our clan. The Ciciero lead us to victory before your clan even existed and now one is doing what it takes to help us flourish in a new age. We stand with him." The man who had questioned Erik earlier spoke now.

"Fools. Your loss. Have fun dying. And don't think I won't tell anyone you're leaving. Get ready to fight to your deaths standing with this weakling." He opened the gate.

They all marched out, heads held high; they walked along a straight road for a while then came upon a three-way fork in the road. Erik looked back, counted everyone, then stepped ever so lightly into the grass between what the figure knew to be the central and vagabond route. He walked far enough ahead that the rest of the well-dressed motley group could follow then stopped until he was sure everyone was there. "This is it. Stay close. We should be safe, but this won't be an easy journey." He paused for comment or complaint but hearing none nodded, turned and started moving again.

And so the group marched on and on, through grass and under trees; avoiding puddles and boulders, some quietly, some conversing, some humming; some of the children chased each other, never straying too far and keeping to the route. Our figure and Latia talked while they walked, almost imagining this was another of their long walks around the city they had left.

"Gorgeous sky tonight."

"It is. Every star tells a different story; alight that left home long ago and is now reaching us to share what it knows, but all it can do is shine and its up to us to interpret its meaning."

"And everyone it shines on uses it light to a different end."

After a while, they lapsed into companionable silence, their hands clasped between them as they walked alongside Arnold and Leslia. Erik strode just ahead of them, alert so they wouldn't have to be.

The group moved forward until the sun's rays began to streak across the sky. At this point, Erik hastened his pace and then stopped. Turning around, he waited for everyone to realized something was changing. "It's too dangerous for us to be out in broad daylight, so I've located places we can hide and camp. I suggest eating, sleeping, and taking care of anything else in these interludes. We will be safe here; it's hidden from the rest of the land by large trees as you can see; they cover us in all directions, and worst case scenario there is a hidden alcove behind the waterfall where we can hide. Do not stray far, but other than that, feel free to do whatever it is you wish to as long as it does not attract untoward attention. Yes, that means limiting fires to those needed for food and which will be constructed in our traditional covert manner. We will move again once the sky is ink once more."

The group dispersed, forming clusters around the area Erik had indicated as shadowed by trees; the figure and Latia sat side by side and were joined by Arnold and Leslia.

"This is history in the making. Generations from now, we will be the ones who moved from a city giving us pain to one where we thrived. And we will thrive." Leslia spoke with excitement and apprehension.

"We will. I'm going to talk to the guy leading us there but too worried about everything to dream about the future." Latia got up and walked over to where Erik was examining a map, brow furrowed.

"When those two were kids, they were inseparable. She hated mention of ill of his family - you could call his father or grandmother or whoever whatever you wanted, but you could never lump all the Ciciero as bad because Erik wasn't."

"She had good intuition as a child."

"That she did. They were best friends, and when he left for the first time she was so confused and angry - why did the kids have to fight the battles? Why did Erik have to leave? Why didn't his father do whatever it was that had to be done? Why did he run away?"

"It was unfair that he had to shoulder everything at that age. I mean, I've never heard of anything like it."

"The Ciciero's corruption hurt everyone; even their own pure weren't spared. Had he not done what he did, we would be in the same place we had always been or lower."

"He's a hero. And a wise man once said 'Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy'."

"This won't be a tragedy. We'll get our happily ever after."

"I'm not saying we won't. But the tragedy has already happened. We can only strive so that that's the only one that does."

"You're right."

Latia walked back and sat down. "That man! He doesn't realize he's a person, not a machine."

"What happened?"

"Nothing. He's still making sure everything is as it should be, that we are not exposed but we also don't face terrain that is too treacherous."

"Let him have his surety."

"Fine."

"You know this is the first time I've seen you lose your cool."

"I didn't in front of him."

"So you trust us to not let your secret out."

"I know you won't because you know what that would mean." No-one went from raving to killer cold like Latia.

"We certainly would not." Leslia laughed.

Soon, Erik finished whatever it was that he was doing and wandered around the camp, talking with people, finally sitting down with their group.

"How are you all doing?"

"Well."

"Good. I want to thank you for your help in getting this together. And for everything that came before. You've been wonderful."

"It was our duty."

"And you executed it perfectly."

"Thank you."

"I know it's not optimal, but you should try to rest while we can. I've devised a sentry system and you will be the last on guard, if that's alright. I'll be the one you relieve. The first group has already started. Is there anything you want?"

"We're doing alright. You should take a moment too."

"I will."

"Finally realized you're not Superman?" Latia smirked.

Erik laughed at that; it was the first time he had laughed since the figure had gotten to know him. It was sincere and treasured, like he truly enjoyed the experience and it was one he did not enjoy often. "Says the Dark Knight." Conversation continued until everyone began to fall asleep. The figure was unable to sleep as a scent kept distracting him, hungering him. Looking up, he saw a pool of blood underneath their leader. Rising, he made his way over to him and saw he was bleeding severely. Knowing the man would not appreciate it, he did not rouse anyone, but woke the man by dropping a leaf on his face; it could be explained as having been blown from a tree due to wind. Then, he quickly lay down again, but kept notice on the other who roused immediately and sat up, making sure everyone was alright. Then, he dropped a hand to his midsection, wincing. When it came away with blood, he turned so he was facing the trees, and lifted his shirt, revealing bandages red with blood. Gingerly, he got up, using a tree to support himself and heavily limped to a pond nearby. There, he pried off the once-white material and cleaned himself off before applying fresh dressing and putting on his shirt. Then, he made his way to the current guard, and straightening his stride, relieved them. The figure waited until everything had settled down again before venturing out to eat.

He found the vagabond trail without fuss and snacked on a man boasting of his ill deeds before turning in. The figure had lurked in the dark until the man and his companions were asleep; then, had pulled the man out, keeping one hand on his mouth. He had smiled and let his fangs show before he sank them into the man's jugular and drank enough to leave the man woozy in the morning. Then, he made his way back to the campsite. judging by the moon's position, his group should be on watch, but they were all asleep. Deciding this was an appropriate time to have woken, he made his way to the sentry post where Erik was keeping watch; though the breeze was gentle, the younger man shivered slightly until he discerned the other's approach, impressively fast for a human. "You're awake."

"I am. I thought it must be our turn."

"It will be soon. You're welcome to stay here or leave. I think it might be best to keep you all on reserve to start tomorrow since there's no point in having a sentry this late."

"You're the boss."

The other man chuckled. "That I am. Why did you join us? There are so many clans out there, and you don't even need to part of one anymore."

"I found that you guys had everything I ever wanted."

"We did? How so? I mean once upon a time, we were the best clan out there. We had cohesion and we worked well. Until my ancestors threw that away."

"They did. You didn't. In this clan, I saw people who were loyal to one another and their leader, people who made the best of what they had, who found happiness in dire circumstances, but still worked to better them, a leader who would give his life, his happiness, his well-being to his people. Sacrificing whether or not you[re alive isn't easy, but it is easier than sacrificing being alive comfortably, happily. Being angry and changing is easy; finding happiness in hardship and striving to change it isn't. You all stuck together though you may have been driven apart. I admired you all, and I wanted to be a part of that. And I was let in. You still are the best clan out there."

Erik looked deep into his eyes, apparently searching for something, whatever it was, he must have found for he nodded. They lapsed into a comfortable silence, until Erik looked up at the sky and said, "I believe it's time everyone prepared." He got up and waited for the other to do the same before heading back to the camp. He pulled out a bell from his bag and rang it. Everyone stopped what they were doing, sleeping, talking, everything and looked up. "We're going to leave soon. I suggest you do whatever you need to do." The camp seemed to come to life; people began bustling back and forth; food was distributed, water was sipped; faces were washed in the pond; the line to shower at the waterfall - hidden from view by a large rock formation - built up. Yet, by the time the sky was ink, everyone was ready to leave. Erik appraised the group before nodding and turning. And so they marched. They marched in this manner for a month; stopping when the sky was streaked with the sun's rays and all her colors, continuing again when ink spilled and blotted all color except the moon and her fair comrades, using the time in between to rest and clean and sustain. They climbed up mountains and down ravines, across lakes and through meadows, dehydrated by sun and soaked in rain, ice, and snow. Eventually, though, they reached the end of the tunnel, Berisia. The city was small from a distance, but it looked ordered. When they reached the border, they were greeted by a slender woman who looked no older than their leader. Her midnight blue hair cascaded down her back, flowing into the black of her suit.

"I've been expecting you."

"I assure you, we mean no harm."

"I never said you did."

"Who told you we were coming?"

"You don't think I brought order to this city by not knowing what happens between it and the closest major city?"

"Of course not. I had just that Hincher said something."

"Hincher? We maintain peace with the city; we don't share intel. Now, you've come a long way; let me, show you where you can stay and explain what is expected of you. We should be able to avoid any problems." Her meaning was clear: Do what you're supposed to and you'll enjoy all my city has to offer; don't and there will be a problem and you won't like what happens then. But, she smiled charmingly and allowed them to enter. "Let me introduce myself; my name is Belira; I am the person you go to when there's a problem and the person who tells you what the problem is, as well as makes sure there is no problem."

"The one in charge then?" Latia grins.

"You could say that." She smiled. They walked into the city; the figure's eyes were immediately drawn to the large buildings on either side of the road; the city was bright, but orderly. There was chaos emanating from every corner but the chaos was comforting rather than concerning; it spoke of freedom and happiness, not destruction. They walked for some time before reaching a black marble building with bright colors thrown about it like paint on a canvas. "Welcome to my office...Well, among other things." Belira lead the way into the building, walking through a metal detector that they all filed through afterwards. "I ask that you not feel like that was personal; it's standard protocol for anyone entering this building; I always pass through it as do all others."

"Security's nothing to explain. Back in our city, though, it's kind of...." Erik affirmed.

"Your city is what all others are based off of; we've just had the chance to explore and learn; perhaps because we didn't have the onus of being the first." They reached a staircase that could only be defined as strange, but it was a good strange. There was something about this city that made the figure feel accepted; everything seemed to scream 'no matter your secret or desire, you are just as sane as the rest of us'. They climbed half of it before Belira broke off. She turned and strode down a long hallway, opening a door with a retinal scan before stepping back to let them through. "You'll find accommodations here; feel free to settle in.; I will need a word with your leader. After that, we will need to enable access to this room for all of you."

"That would be me."

"Shall we? We can talk in my office. Just logistics, don't worry."

"But of course. Thank you." Belira and Erik strode out.

And so began their new life in this new city, a place that believed everyone should do as they liked but because everyone was connected and inevitably influenced each other, all had to contribute to the city in a positive manner, and everyone enjoyed basic services. Other than that, everyone was free to live their lives. Many different clans called it home and lived their way; Belira met regularly with clan leaders and made sure everything was in order; she ruled a city with no rules. The newcomers, or rather latest newcomers, found their place and became self-sufficient, finding their own homes and defining a region of the city as theirs, once more on an upward hike; after generations, their ancestors were understood.There was no word from their old home and everyone felt they were free. Eleven months passed in this way. One night, Erik gathered everyone.

"We've come a long way from when we first came here and I want to thank all of you for that." A round of applause for everyone by everyone followed his words. "Turns out we arrived a month after the founding anniversary of Berisia. Every year, they host a ball that every resident is welcome to attend. Today, Belira announced that that's happening next week. Please come."

The next week passed as all before had; on the evening of the ball, the figure, wearing a black suit with red shirt, knocked on Latia's door. She answered wearing a red asymmetry ball gown; her hair arranged in a waterfall braid. They linked arms and walked out to meet Leslia and Arnold who were dressed to the nines in his and hers tuxedos. As they headed to city hall, or it's equivalent, people of different clans filled the streets. It felt like a festival, which the figure supposed it was.

Belira and the clan leaders greeted them at the entrance. The figure couldn't help but notice that Erik stood just a little closer to Belira than to the leader on his other side and that they were both dressed in steampunk attire.

Inside, everyone mingled until most were there. Belira drew everyone's attention before beginning to speak.

"Another year of individual cohesion. I could stand here and give a speech about everything we've done or what our history is, but that's not what tonight is about. Yes, tonight is about Berisia, yes it's about what we've experienced and achieved, but it's about that not because of it, but because we've done it. Tonight is about us; every person that makes up our city. So, I'm not going to take away from that. Tonight is about celebrating what we stand for. Have a good night, everybody, however you do it." With that, the party began.

The dance floor began filling up with revelers. Latia and the figure finding themselves in the center of the room, laughed before he asked for a dance. As they twirled, he was astounded by everything she was and that she made him feel. They swirled around the room; the dance changing as the music did; they waltzed, did a country jig, disco-ed, and moved in so many other ways the figure didn't even know them all. Out of the corner of his eye, the figure caught glimpses of others; there were people from the same clan, from other clans laughing, dancing, talking. A woman in high couture and a man in a hoodie and jeans tango-ed. It was the very definition of Berisia. He saw Erik and Belira engaged in conversation and even the quick dance, which ended as soon as they both realized they didn't enjoy moving to a beat.

Dawn arrived sooner than anyone realized. Startled by the sun's rays, people began leaving, heading home. Belira let clan leaders know that their meeting would be that afternoon rather than that evening before heading upstairs. Erik caught her arm.

"Where are you going?"

"To my office."

"Come on, you don't have to work."

"But I do."

"But you just gave us all the day off."

"I postponed our meeting to this evening."

"Do you think anyone's going to work?

"Well, no. But that's okay. You know I just care you all do what you have to; I don't have any business in how you do it."

"So why do you have to work?"

"So you all don't."

"You know you can take a day off. I haven't seen you do it since we met."

"I'll take a day off when you stop feeling guilty and self-sacrificing."

"You know that'll never happen."

"Exactly." They embraced. Their exchange wasn't public but it wasn't hidden either; anyone who wanted to watch could but they had no need to announce it to the world. Latia noticed it too, and when Erik ambled back over to them, spoke up.

"When were you going to tell us?"

"Tell you what?"

"That you had finally done something normal."

"What?"

"You and Belira."

"What about us?"

"That there;s an 'us'"

"Of course there is. When one wishes to refer to oneself and another in conjunction which happens when someone asks about the two together one uses the word us."

"You know what I mean."

"No I don't think I do."

"When were you going to tell us that you two were together?"

"I wasn't because we're not."

Latia laughed, then stopped at Erik's straight face. "Wait you're not joking."

"No, I'm not. Someone's getting rusty."" He smirked. It was startling how different he looked; though still underweight, he had gained enough to look like he should be alive. He also blamed himself much less than he used to; he still did as Belira's words illustrated but less; perhaps it was because things were looking up for them now.

"I am not! You just don't know what you're talking about!"

Everyone was in a jovial mood the rest of the day until Erik came back from his meeting with Belira, ashen.

"What's wrong?"

"Hincher." He shuddered saying the name, as though his body could not tolerate the effort, the motion that was involved with the very utterance of that name.

"Hincher?" Leslia cried. Erik flinched but nodded.

"He's..." He swallowed. "He's...he's asked for us."

"What do you mean? We're not objects to be asked for."

"I know. He knows. He's asked Belira to exile us, to kick us out so he can capture us, force us back. He can't attack us here because of the peace between the two cities and because he knows he can't fight everyone and everyone would rise if he attacked us when we were one of them; it sends a message. Belira is stonewalling him; saying she can't renege on the promise of Berisia. And he has no right to demand this especially since we owe him nothing. We came here and we were honest about our status and she deemed us entry; she won't go back on that. But he's trying. I thought you all should know."

"He won't win."

"I know, but what I don't know is why he's doing this."

"He's sadistic. He can't stand that we've won."

"Well we have. And I'm going to talk to him."

"What?"

"He's going to be here next week to talk to Belira in person. I'm going to see if I can meet with him."

"Erik, you don't have to do this."

"You're right. I don't have to, but I need to."

And so, the next week Erik set out to meet the man who had abused him half his life. Belira had been reluctant to allow it, calling it throwing a match in a powder keg, but had agreed on two conditions: One, she would be there and two, someone else from the clan would. Erik had asked if anyone wanted to go; Latia had but as the clan spy, she never could go to such things; everyone else had been unsure and Erik had said no-one need feel obliged; in the end, the figure had stepped up and gone with him.

They walked into city hall and up to Belira's office. Her secretary buzzed them in. Belira stood with her back to the door, looking out at the city. Her office had no walls, only windows and the figure had time to see that it was suspended in air allowing them to look out over the city in three and a half directions with half a side attaching it to the building before Belira turned around and strode over to her desk indicating they should be seated. "Thank you for coming." Once they were all seated, she continued. "I want you to know that I will not give into Mr. Hincher's demands. We are allies but that does not mean Berisia will oblige outlandish requests and exiling innocents is outre. I understand you wish to speak to him as it does involve your clan; I also realize that you have history with him. That is fine. Everyone has connections and pasts; you will not be made to leave because of yours. I am on your side here; Berisia is on your side. However, I must ask that you remain calm when he is here; I have no doubt he will attempt to rile you up - I know you are professionals but so is he." She looked at them, waiting for their assent.

"We will." Erik affirmed. She nodded. "Then, there should be no problem. Also, please understand this is not commonplace; you cannot have audiences with out-of-city representatives whenever you feel like; this is only taking place because it so clearly involves you. And because this seems to be the best way to resolve this issue." This was a statement of fact so she did not wait before continuing. "Are you ready?" Both men nodded. "Very well then." She pressed her intercom button. "Dylan, send Mr. Hincher in please."

"Right away."

The door opened and Hincher walked in. Erik's heart sped up at the sight of the man. Belira remained calm as she stood up to greet.

"Welcome, Mr. Hincher."

"I've told you, call me Mark."

"Mark. Welcome." She introduced the others before gesturing to the remaining seat; the figure would be seated between Erik and Hincher. She and he sat down before she continued.

"I hope I'm right in thinking you have arranged this meeting because you changed your mind."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you then."

"You have not." His tone changed abruptly.

"No. I believe Mr. Ciciero would like to speak with you though."

"I would."

"Can I call you Erik?"

"I don't believe we'll be seeing as much of each other as to forego formalities Mr. Hincher."

"Okay okay. She's got you on a leash, does she?"

"I would ask you to not speak in this manner. Please, continue Mr. Ciciero."

"Why do you want us to leave?"

"I believe your presence is damaging our relationship. And I value our relationship very much, as I'm sure Belira does as well."

"Our cities' alliance has been an integral part of our regional success. If we do not get along, how can we expect ot move in the rest of the world."

"How is our presence damaging to this alliance?"

"Well, you were once part of my city."

"And we left. Berisia has been what we needed and we are only to happy to be part of it."

"Be that as it may, this may still damage our relationship. You don't want that, do you Belira?"

"A fact you would do well to remember: threatening our relationship damages it more than anything else."

"Perhaps I should leave. I hope this won't be my last trip."

"Certainly."

"We should meet alone."

"I would oblige. Do you have anything else to say, Mr. Ciciero?"

"Just one. We're in Berisia now and this is also where our descendants will say we began." Translation: we've succeeded and you can't take that away from us.

Hincher just looked at Erik. Then, he turned back to Belira. Erik and the figure walked out.

"Thanks for coming."

"Of course. Was that what it had to be?"

"I think so. He's trying but he won't succeed."

"Coming here was a good call. It would've been foolish to stay; we can prosper here; there was limited chance there."

And so Hincher left Berisia with his tail between his legs.

Several years passed; Latia and the figure officially united; this was his second time, but it felt as magical as his first. He was unequivocally in love with her, and she him. They had spent years learning about each other and she had accepted his nature and had told him of her own troubled past. Her parents had abandoned her before being killed; she had raised herself in the clan, but pretty much on her own; she had taken to the streets and supported herself all her life. She had paid for her education by working several odd jobs and had found herself in corporate espionage, fitting giving her heritage – her family had worked as the clan’s spies. He had told her of his life and what he had seen; she had told him she would have joined him but it would be going against clan tradition and she could not live with herself if she ruined her family line, ended it really. However, she was thinking of joining him after some time; he had told her she could go back to any age and she wanted to match his. The thought of spending eternity with her made him giddy but he didn’t let it show for he wanted this decision to be purely hers. The clan continued to prosper and grow under Erik’s guidance. The man still bore physical evidence of his previous suffering but it wasn’t debilitating; he was stronger than any other of their clan, wiser too. He and Belira had grown close but denied any relationship. They were the kind of leaders all should be. He never stopped working for his people, willing to sacrifice anything. She ran the city with honor and dignity; she listened to all, and answered as best she could. And the city prospered. There was growth in all sectors and more alliances than any city had had in history. She gracefully hosted foreign dignitaries but stood for her city with an unbreakable will.

One day, a clan with whom rivalry had been forged generations ago learned of their success and demanded war. No-one wanted war; the clan tried to stop it. They asked Belira – part of her role was to advise in matters such as these- and she tried forging peace, but the other clan was adamant. They invoked old traditions and rites in their call. Erik was honor bound to agree and so they went to war. The clan gathered on a field outside Berisia- near enough that they could return quickly, but far enough that the city would not be impacted – this Belira would not budge on. They stood in position as they started and maintained it as they fought. Latia and the figure stood side by side, fighting any who dared approach them; Leslia and Arnold did so feet away; the entire area was full of bloodshed and fighting. At the front, was Erik. He fought valiantly but of the enemy there were 10 to his 1. In the end, they won. However, revelry was cut short by the sight of their leader. He could barely keep himself conscious, covered in bruises and wounds. They returned to Berisia where he could receive care. They were in the hospital for minutes before Belira rushed in. She was composed as ever as she spoke to the staff and approached the clan. “Are you all ok?”

“Forget about us. What about Erik? Did they tell you anything.”

She smiled. “He’ll be okay. But he won’t be happy if he learns you all didn’t take care of yourselves.”

“We’re fine.”

“You should get yourselves checked over, then get some rest.”

“Fine.” Latia nodded and everyone listened to her.

“Just head left and someone will guide you. Thank you.”

They all filed out. Belira waited for them to leave. Then, unheard by any – even the figure, she murmured. “Be ok, Erik. Don’t make me a liar and a widow.”

And so, she sat and waited while they worked on him, hiding her emotions with the mask she had worn all her life. Keeping up appearances and keeping everyone calm, she worked while she waited, and if her fingers shook as she typed, her speed hid it from perception.

She remembered when they had first arrived; at Leslia’s urging, Erik has submitted to a medical evaluation – a good thing too; he was in horrible condition. He was severely underweight and dehydrated; it was a wonder he was alive; in addition to that, he had several other issues that stemmed from these and from whatever had caused these. She knew she had to know to better serve her city, but was firmly opposed to intrusion and spying, a notion only amplified by his clan’s worry. So she had waited until he recovered enough for her to be able to ask him.

“Hi, I’m not sure if you remember me-“

“You’re Belira, you rule Berisia.”

“Rule is a strong term. I guide it.”

“I like guide.”

She had smiled. “Me too.”

“What brings you here or what made you talk to me? I know you’ve been here.”

“I didn’t want to intrude; I still don’t. But, I can’t do what I need to without knowing enough about everyone here-especially certain people in certain regards. And clan leaders in health regards are especially those. I apologize for having to ask this, but I hope you understand.”

“If I weren’t the clan leader, I might not, but I do.”

“If that were the case, I wouldn’t be asking you. I would be asking the clan leader.”

“I know.”

She had taken a deep breath. Something about him was different, even then. “What happened to you?

He had smiled ruefully. “A decade of indebted slavery.”

This had rocked her for a moment but she didn’t let it show. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. That won’t happen here.”

“I know. I won’t let it.”

She was filled with awe for this man. “You’ve done a great deal to help your people.”

“To undo what my family has done you mean.”

“You don’t want to undo all that. Your family did unite your clan after all.”

“And what did we do then?”

“You can be the good in them without making their mistakes.”

“I’ll believe that when I actually help the people I’m supposed to lead.”

“You have.”

“Not enough.”

“Then you will. Trust me, I can see it in you and in them. Yours is not a clan that has been let down by their leader and you’re not a leader complacent and broken down.”

“How can you see that?”

“Berisia wasn’t always a haven.”

“You built it into one.”

“It needed it and I needed a cause. Your clan is your cause and it needs you. And you need it. You’ll get there. But you need to let yourself.”

“Thank you. But why are you doing this?”

“Berisia is my clan – and I won’t let any part of it fall apart or give up. And you are part of it. I won’t let you down. I won’t be invasive or domineering; I won’t hold your hand, but I will make sure you can stand on your own.”

He had nodded then, a slow nod. And when they had looked into each other’s eyes an understanding had been forged, a golden thread uniting them. She had never felt this way before.

After what seemed like an eternity, she heard two words. “Erik Ciciero.” Rising to her feet, she hurried over to the desk.

“Hello.”

“He should be ok. However, the road to recovery will be tough.” Details were given of what would happen and why and how. Belira took careful mental note of all these. Then, she called Latia and informed her before heading to him.

He looked frail, but alive. And that was all she needed. He looked up when she walked in, his eyes filling with love. “Hey.”

She choked back tears. “Hey. I- don’t do that. I love you so much. I’m not going to ask you to not go because that would be keeping you from doing what you love, and I can’t do that. But, don’t leave me please. I love you so much.” She broke down crying, keeping herself from sobbing into his chest only out of worry for his health.

“I guess we should come back another time.” Latia deadpanned from the doorway.

Immediately, Belira collected herself. “No, no. Come on in. I was just leaving.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Leslia said kindly.

“I have something I have to do.”

“Bel.” Erik’s voice was calm though weak. Belira turned instantly. “I think we should…”

“Only if you’re sure. Don’t feel like you have to.”

“I am because I don’t.”

She smiled at him. “Okay then.” She nodded and handed him something from her pocket, then turned to face the others, positioning herself so everyone could see all of her and Erik.

Erik slid a black diamond ring onto her finger, then took her hand and held it ever so gently.

Tears shone in both their eyes – a feat in itself for they both typically kept any emotion from showing.

“We’d been seeing each other for years. Sorry for not telling you all, but we wanted something that only we knew about.”

“And then, the morning we left, we got married.”

“So you two lied to us for years about not being together, then got married.”

“I apologize for any-”

“Oh, don’t pay her any mind. She’s playing. We’re really happy for you both as people. And as a clan, we couldn’t have a better Ciciera.”

“Ciciera?”

“As you know the Ciciero is whoever is the clan leader by birth – male or female- and the Ciciera is whoever stands by them – again regardless of gender.”

“I’m honored.” There were hugs and smiled and laughter. Erik and Belira couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other even when they embraced everyone else; they paid attention, but there was a connection between them that anyone could see.

Eventually though, Belira spoke up. “I wish I could stay, but I really have to go.”

“Off to run the city.” Erik spoke with pride.

“No rest for the wicked.”

“You’re the farthest from wicked, my love.”

Belira giggled before waving goodbye.

The figure heard her heels click clack out before stopping at the reception desk. He heard her speak. “I have to leave, but I give you permission to do whatever it takes to make sure he’s okay. Don’t wait for my permission in case you have to do something. I realize I’ll have to sign something, and I’ll gladly do so.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Keep him alive and heal him. Whatever it takes.”

“Very well.” The rustle of paper being drawn out, the scratch of a pen.

“Thank you.”

“Of course. You can nullify this at any time but it must be signed and in writing.”

“Understood. Have a good day.”

“You too ma’am.” Heels again.

Erik healed; it took time, but he healed. The city and clan prospered and became shining exemplars of what they should be. Years passed.

Latia made up her mind and told those closest to her. Everyone supported her decision, but when asked if they would make the same one, there were mixed answers.

“We want to live out our natural lives in the manner our predecessors did.” Leslia and Arnold gently declined.

“If it means I can serve better and make up for everything, I’m in.” Erik asserted.

“To be of better service to the world, I would do anything. This gives so much opportunity. Please, let me join.” Belira asked.

“Alright.” And so the figure turned three more, and his lone life ended…for some time.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Student Life

There's More To A Relationship Than Netflix

Summertime is only 93 days of the year, Find something to do!

891
Tallie Ammar

Summertime is ideal for more than just hanging out and binging your favorite TV series with your friends. Although summer does bring rain and thunderstorms which is perfect for those binging days, take advantage of those nice and sunny days. There is so many opportunities to get out of the house and enjoy the season before the snow starts to come back. Here are 25 interesting dates that are doable almost anywhere for any age.

Keep Reading... Show less
Leilani Encarnacion

Philadelphia has its beauty, but some of you may have not been to some of the most beautiful hidden spots in the city. This summer is a chance for new adventures and exploring, so here are a few places that I highly recommend you should visit at least once.

Keep Reading... Show less

To my boyfriend's parents,

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

How Not To Go Insane During Summer

Holy cow. If you're like me, you are bored out of your mind taking summer classes all the way until August. Then just to come right back and take more classes for the Fall?

It is like I am going insane.

4457
Pexels
https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunglasses-sunset-summer-sand-46710/

I mean, I am taking rigorous classes which allow me to devote a lot of my time towards them, but still...it is only two classes. By the time I get done, I have a whole half of the day full of nothing. I end up just sitting on my phone for most of the day instead of doing something practical.

So here I have compiled a list of how to keep yourself from not going crazy!

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Week One of Being A Freshie Again

August rolls around, and school starts again...

3856
Week One of Being A Freshie Again
Dear Freshman Me,

Most of us officially embarked on the journey of college. Yay! more school, how great is that? (Sarcasm people) This past week has been my first week at this amazing university. I've been finding all of the neat little short cuts that save me 10 minutes to get to a class, or just allow me to de-stress a little when I feel over whelmed.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments