It was taking some time, but Daegan was slowly becoming more comfortable with roaming around Dulcedo...something - whatever the one calling herself Master Adisa had called it. It was a weird name, that was all Daegan cared to remember.
Despite being told that he was safe here, the young boy still didn’t feel that way. There was far too much oddities to put his mind at ease. Master Adisa could turn into a cat! Daegan didn’t think he would ever get over the shock of that first encounter, but Master Adisa seemed nice. So, maybe she was okay.
Everyone else was still high on his “avoid at all costs” list. How could he be sure that any of these people could be trusted? How could he know that they weren’t just waiting to attack him again?
No, he wouldn’t get comfortable and he wouldn’t get close to anyone either! He was only going to stay in this place long enough to find out where Vano and DaeJin were, and then he would leave. At least once he figured out HOW to leave.
The problem with Dulcedosomething...It didn’t seem to have any kind of door that lead out. Just a lot of doors that lead to other areas. And that had been far too much for Daegan to handle, so he remained in the comforting familiarity of what he had learned was called the “Earth Wing.”
Every day since his arrival, he and his only companion, Shroomi had ventured out a little further from his room. Today’s trip had brought him to the strangest forest he had ever been in. It was eerily quiet, and yet it lacked any kind of foreboding presence - instead the place could be described as oddly peaceful if not a little sad.
The trees around Daegan as he passed through the forest (often even in the literal sense as he walked through the trees absentmindedly) each bore amazingly detailed carved statues of people. At the base of a lot of the trees were flowers and odd trinkets or pictures or pieces of cloth. Obviously left there by someone, but Daegan couldn’t imagine why.
At first, he merely wanted to flee from the strange area, but as his partner seemed okay and not worried, Daegan decided that the place had to be okay to walk through.
Although walking “through” the forest quickly resulted in a surprise as unbeknownst to Daegan, someone else was spending time in the forest, and as Daegan passed through yet another tree he instantly tripped over the person on the other side, and fell to the ground with a shocked yell.
After finally finishing his homework - it was much harder to find time to work on it now that he also had praetor lessons on top of schooling lessons - Nibal had made his way back to the Earth wing with the crystal Rose's he had bought back during Valentine's in tow. He'd been keeping them at his desk ever since, but ever since he'd come back from Pompeii, he'd wanted to go plant them at his moms'. Today, he'd decided, would be the day he did it.
Since they were crystal plants and not real plants, he didn't need to be careful with the roots or anything, unlike when he'd planted the actual flowers during Christmas, but he still wanted to be careful to put them in the earth deep enough so they wouldn't fall over, kind of like real plants. He was on his hands and knees, with a trowel digging into the dirt in one hand and the flowers in the other, when he felt someone kicking , then stumbling and rolling over them and finally falling on the earth right next to him.
"Hey!" He exclaimed, somewhere between pained and worried, sitting up on his legs as he stared at the strange kid who had just stumbled upon him, "be careful where you're going. You almost hit me in the face."(edited)
Daegan scrambled away from the other boy as soon as he got his feet under him again. The fright from the sudden fall coupled with the blond's shocked outburst immediately had Daegan's hackles raised. "I'm sorry, okay!" He snapped defensively, golden eyes blazing. "I didn't see you!"
Crouched on all fours, he eyed the other youth for a moment, debating whether or not he should run, but his gaze caught the sparkle of the crystal flowers in the other boy's hand and instantly his agression was replaced with awe. A cautious, suspicious awe, but an awe nonetheless.
"Those look like they're made of glass!" He pointed out, even going so far as to slightly edge closer. "Did you make them?" He asked.
Nibal gave him an odd look. He didn't mean to sound angry or to startle him, but the other boy seemed jumpy and on edge. "It's ok," he said, rubbing the spot where Daegan had collided with him. "You just scared me because I didn't see you, either. I was a bit distracted." He motioned for the flowers, which seemed to have caught his eye. Again, he gave Daegan a curious look. He not only didn't recognize the boy - and he knew pretty much everyone - but he also was reacting to things very strangely.
"They are." At the question, he kind of offered the flowers for the other boy to inspect. "But I didn't make these.I don't have a fire spirit to make glass with. I just bought them from the shop a couple months ago, during Valentines." He watched him for a moment before offering him a smile. "Are you new here? I don't recognize you,so you must be. I'm Nibal, by the way."
Daegan flinched instinctively as Nibal made to show him the flowers better. The boy's entire body tensed up for a brief moment before he relaxed ever so slightly so that he could more closely peer at the strange crystal like petals of the odd flowers.
As Nibal explained the flower's origin, Daegan's eyes narrowed suspiciously. There was a whole lot of that sentence that Daegan didn't understand. Fire spirits? A...shop? So you could just go to a store and buy weird flowers? No store Daegan had ever been in had ever had anything close to this. Was this kid trying to play some kind of joke on him? Daegan wasn't exactly the best at judging people, but this kid seemed too...normal to be up to no good. Still, Daegan decided he would remain vigilant! After all, trusting the wrong people had gotten Daegan in this mess in the first place!
Daegan's mouth twisted into a thin, pensive line as he considered Nibal's question. Was it safe to answer? Maybe this kid was working with the bad people who had...He cut off his own train of thought and shook his head.
"I'm Daegan." He finally answered. "I um..." He looked around uncomfortably before a new realization popped into his head. "Did your parents send you here because you were bad?" Perhaps the threats from Daegan's guardians had also been used against Nibal! So maybe this kid could potentially be an ally that Daegan so desperately needed.
"Daegan," he repeated, trying to commit the name to memory. Then,reaching up to scratch behind his ear, Nibal answered his question with another question."Here like... the earth wing? Or you mean Dulcedomum, like, the house?" The question was rather odd. "But, I guess it doesn't matter... No. I grew up here, so I've always been here. And my parents are... dead, so they can't really send me anywhere."
Nibal looked around a bit, checking to see if anyone was looking for or following the other boy, sine he looked a little fidgety and about to bolt. Maybe someone was chasing him. His parents, maybe? "Did your parents send you here because you were bad?"
Dulcedomum! That's what this place was called. Daegan found himself mildly please with himself that he had at least gotten MOST of the weird name right. That momentary flash of joy instantly died as Nibal continued to answer Daegan's question. Daegan's expression softened to a much less aggressive, shocked one, and he studied Nibal's face for a long moment before his gaze dropped to the ground and he absentmindedly plucked at the grass.
"I don't have parents either." He answered. "The two losers who look after me always said they would send me to "The House" which I guess must be this place." Daegan gave Nibal yet another suspicious look before continuing. "They didn't send me here though....I got brought here. I guess my hiding place wasn't very good. But I just thought it would be...those two...who would have found me first...and then maybe I wouldn't have had to come..." He trailed off and his voice took on a miserable sound of loss and grief as he thought about his missing guardians and the situation that had caused their separation.
"Oh," for a moment, Nibal realized how it must feel to others when he admitted that he didn't have parents, because he felt a little sad and awkward for Daegan when he mentioned not having parents. "I'm sorry." He sat down, since it didn't seem like they were going to stand for a bit and his legs were starting to go numb from sitting on them for so long. "The house isn't so bad. I mean, I've always been here, so I don't know how it is outside, but you can find pretty much everything that need in here, so it can't be that different from out there. It's probably even better, that's why a lot of people come live here"
"Maybe they wanted to bring you to the house because your parents were wizards? Or maybe praetors. My mom was a praetor. Maybe the people who were looking after you were praetors, too" That said, he glanced at Daegan's earring, his eyebrows raising in surprise and curiosity. "Are you a praetor? You have a piercing."
Daegan's head shot up in surprise. No one really ever apologized to him for anything. They usually just shoved him out of the way. Or ignored him. Mainly ignored him. Maybe this kid wasn't so bad after all.
Following Nibal's lead, Daegan also lowered himself down to a sitting position, pulling his legs up to his chest so that subconsciously there was still a wall between him and the other boy.
It was hard to consider "The house" as being anything other then the terrible threat his guardians had made it out to be, but listening to Nibal describe it definitely had doubts creep into Daegan's mind. Could they have lied to him? His brow narrowed into a glare. Of course they could have. They were both idiots after all.
"Wizards? Praetors?" Daegan repeated the words that felt odd in his mouth. "I....don't know. What is a praetor?" He asked, his hand gently fingering with the earring that hung from his ear. "Do They have piercings?" DaeJin had a lot of piercings...was he a praetor? He blinked and noticed that Nibal also was sporting a pierced ear. "Are you a praetor?" Slowly, Daegan's suspicious scowl was lifting into a more normal curiosity. He didn't realize it at the moment, but it was nice having someone to explain this weird stuff to him.
"You don't know what they are? Wizards and praetors?" Nibal was a bit incredulous. Sure, he'd heard of fellow praetors talking about how they never knew about this whole magic thing - which to him was silly because there were spirits everywhere in Dulce and how could they not know? Were there not spirits out there? But it didn't matter, because by the time people came to the house they usually knew what was up. It was a weird exception to have this boy not know anything. "Yeah, praetors have piercings and I'm a praetor, too." He was very proud of that and it showed in how he said it.
"Praetors are kind of like bodyguards for wizards, who are like, magical people who help save the world. They both make pacts with these magical creatures that are called spirits," he stopped and looked around, trying to find Tuttle, but his spirit was nowhere to be found. "I don't know where my spirit is right now, but he looks like a yellow turtle. Spirits can kind of look like whatever they want. And to make pacts with the spirits, praetors get piercings and wizards have these marks on their skin." He looked at Daegan expectantly. "Do you have a spirit?"
Daegan's eyes narrowed into a warning glare. He didn't like it when people talked to him like he was stupid, and Nibal's shock at him not knowing what what Praetors or wizards were sounded very close to the put downs Daegan was used to getting. Surprisingly though, the young boy managed to reign in his temper as he was more interested in the answer then picking a fight about what he did or did not know.
"If Praetors are the ones who protect wizards then it seems like praetors are the ones who really save the world." Daegan pointed out while sitting back slightly on the grass to ponder this new found information.
As Nibal mentioned Tuttle, Daegan sat up and peered around as if to also look for the mentioned spirit. But of course he found nothing.
"I have Shroomi!" He explained happily. "She looks like a mushroom and..." He looked around for a brief moment, even patted the top of his head but his spirit appeared to be missing. Well, not really missing - Daegan could still feel her presence quite clearly and she seemed to be radiating amusement. "Huh...I guess she's busy. But I'm sure she's around. She never leaves me alone. She sure has helped me a lot since...since I..." For a moment a truely genuine smile had brightened up his face before it faded away into a more somber expression.
Daegan's gaze slid away from Nibal but ended up falling upon the strange tree behind him. "So why do these trees have people carvings?" He gave a start. "Are they some kind of spirit too?" He asked, studying the faced trees more closely.
Nibal chuckled a bit at being told the praetors were the real world heroes. He certainly had never thought of it that way, but Daegan was maybe onto something there. "Don't let Mr. Aristar hear you say that," he laughed, "I don't think he'll agree with you."
When he mentioned having a spirit, Nibal offered him a wide smile. That meant that he was a praetor, too. And a light one as well, by the looks of that golden earring. It'd be nice to have someone young in his lessons. "Cool, maybe our spirits will come around soon."
When Daegan asked about the trees, he looked up at the tree they were looking up at. "Oh... no, they're not spirits. These are people who used to live in Dulce. When they die, the house makes statues of them to remember them. Here in the earth wing they look like trees." He reached up to the trunk and pressed his palm against it. "This is my mom."
The mention of Aristar's name brought nothing but a blank stare from Daegan. Was that supposed to be someone important? Maybe like a boss? Master Aristar? So like Master Adisa. Maybe he was her boss! And perhaps just the guy to talk to about getting back to Dae Jin and Vano!
Or perhaps a person to avoid. If he was the head of The House...then perhaps it was in Daegan's best interest to avoid him less this Aristar character lock him up in his room and make him read books until his eyes bled. At least that's what Vano said happened to bad kids in The House.
Coming to the conclusion that Aristar was most likely dangerous, Daegan pushed the thought of the mysterious tyranical overlord out of his head and focused back on what Nibal was saying about the trees.
Daegan's eyes widened and without realizing it he was on his feet and spinning around to look at all the faces around him. "All of these are dead people?" He repeated. "Anyone who dies gets a tree?!" He asked realizing that maybe there were trees for his guardians here! The only thing that kept Daegan from bolting to look was...not wanting to find them as trees.
His small hands balled into fists. He would look later.
Taking in a shaky breath Daegan yet again forced his attention back to Nibal and the tree he was touching. "Your mom? Oh..." He shifted awkwardly on his feet and averted his gaze from the tree's face. "Hi Nibal's mom...Nibal's going to be a hero someday and save the world!" He finally stammered with all the awkwardness a ten year old could muster. He wasn't sure why he said it, but it seemed right. Death was suppose to be a celebration of life. At least that's how Daegan was raised. So Celebrating Nibal's mom's son seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe that would make her happy. And happy spirits didn't come back to haunt their families! That's another thing Daegan had been taught.
Nibal nodded. "Yeah, they're all the dead people that lived in the earth wing. I can show you where the statues in the other wings are. They look different everywhere you go. Some of them are reaaaaaally old, they've been here forever. That's why there's so many. " He points to another tree that is a few feet away. "That one over there is my other mom."
When Daegan made the very spirited proclamation,he just kind of chuckled a bit. It was very nice of him to think so highly of Nibal after having just met him. "Hopefully one day," he replied. "Right now I think I mostly get in the way. But that's what training is for. By the time I'm as old as everyone else, I'll be as good as a master."
After putting it off for a while, he grabbed the trowel again and fidgeted with it, not yet decided to continue digging. "How about you? Do you know when you're going to start training? If you have a spirit, you should probably take lessons with the rest of us. You'll like Miss Esha, she's very nice."
Daegan found himself once again at odds with what he had been taught growing up and what Nibal was saying. No, it was more the way Nibal spoke so casually about training that really had Daegan's eyes narrow with suspicion and doubt. Although Daegan completely understood the feeling of always being in the way he certainly couldn't understand feeling it so bad that he would force himself through torture.
He watched Nibal dig at the dirt for a moment wishing he could read minds to see if this all was some kind of elaborate joke. From Nibal, Daegan looked up to the calm carved face of Nibal's mom and he wondered if Nibal was the kind of guy who would lie in front of his mother. Maybe he learned how to be a trickster from her!
Or maybe...and Daegan was quickly coming to terms with this fact - Dae Jin and Vano were big stupid face liars.
Daegan inched closer to Nibal and lowered his voice in case any of the trees were eavesdropping. "So you don't have to run laps until your feet turn into bloody nubs at the end of your legs? And what about book lessons? Is it true that if you don't read the words right, the books will bite off your fingers? And if you're really bad they hang you from your toe nails and dip you slowly into a volcano unless you can do your times tables backwards?" Sure saying it out loud sounded ridiculous but not to Daegan who had been told much worse about The House since the day he was first told about it.
While waiting for an answer Daegan peered at Nibal's fingers to see if he was missing any.
Blinking several time in puzzlement, Nibal stopped digging for a moment to ask, "Who told you that? That doesn't sound like any lessons I've heard of. Some teachers are strict, but that's WAY too much." He paused to think about the other masters who he'd heard fellow apprentices complain about. one of them seemed to fit the bill of what Daegan was saying. "There's a morning run, but we only run for a little bit before breakfast - you only get extra laps if you wake up late or something. And there's some birdy books, and they could bite you, but they don't have teeth so they couldn't take your fingers if they wanted to. They mostly just make nests in the library shelves and chirp and sit on your head. They might just give you a few papercuts, though. And I don't know where you got the volcano bit... but I guess there's lava in the fire wing? I don't think they use it to punish people though..."(edited)
Daegan nodded slowly with each of Nibal's explanations. There was definitely a sense of relief to hearing that all of Daegan's worries were unfounded. Of course Daegan himself wouldn't believe it until he saw it, but considering that Nibal had all his fingers and didn't appear to be sporting any kind of physical trauma...that bode well for Daegan's future stay at The House.
"Just some idiots told me that." He answered Nibal's question. "They told me a lot of stuff but I'm starting to wonder if anything they said was true. I guess I'll just have to beat the truth out of them later!" He balled his small hands into fists and tried to look menacing but failed miserably.
That is...if there was a next time. Daegan certainly hoped that there would be a next time. For all his insults and attitude, he missed his guardians and hoped that they were okay....and not trees.
"Would you like some help planting your flowers?" Daegan asked as he settled back down and studied the hole Nibal had been working on.
"Don't listen to them, they were trying to mess with you. Especially older people." He wasn't aware that Daegan was talking about his family, but rather thought he meant some other apprentices who Daegan had met before he had met him. "Not like Master old, just regular old. They'll try to trick you into believing dumb stuff because we're kids and we're supposed to believe everything grown ups say. If someone says something you think might not be true, ask a Master. Masters know a LOT of stuff. You can tell who's a master because they have tattoos in all the different colors. Or piercings in all the different colors, for master praetors."
He looked down at the hole he'd made already. "Well, I think this hole is already done." As if to prove his point, he plopped one of the crystal flowers into it, stem first. It was a little higher than he would've wanted, but nothing that couldn't be fixed by pressing it down into the ground with just enough force to bury it a little deeper. "But if you want, you can help me with the next one. I'm just planting one here. The other one is for Mama Mila." That said, he pushed the dirt he'd just unearthed back into the hole, covering the glass stem. He stood up, waiting for Daegan before moving to the tree that belonged to his mother's wizard.
"How long ago did you get here? Hs someone showed you around the house yet?"
"Tattoos in all the different colours....and earrings....in all the different colours?" Daegan's expression was a reflection of pure disbelief. Not towards Nibal's words but to the fact that his very guardians sported those very things! Were they....Masters?! No....surely not! They were CLEARLY too dumb to be masters. But tricking Daegan into believing something just because he was a kid seemed like something they would do.
The young boy scratched at his head. So if Dae Jin and Vano had been fibbing about a lot of stuff about The House....what else had they been fibbing about?
Watching Nibal finish planting his crystal flower, Daegan was quick to follow after him towards the other tree. "You have two moms?" He asked as he crouched back down at the new spot and cleared away the little pebbles and leaves that covered the new spot Nibal was about to dig.
"Mmmm I've only been here a couple days I think." He answered. "But I'm not sure. I think I was asleep. Shroomi says I was really sick when they found me. I don't remember being carried here. Just kind of....woke up here." He shrugged and then shook his head. "No one's really showed me anything...but...." He scratched at his face and grinned sheepishly..."That's probably my fault. I've kind of been....running from almost everyone...Shroomi says it's safe here but, I dunno..." He shrugged again. "Home was suppose to be safe too until it wasn't. And friends I had were nice to me until they weren't...and..." Dae Jin and Vano liked having me around, until they didn't. "This place is kind of scary when it's new." He admitted,
“Well,” Nibal started, stabbing the ground with the trowel. “Mama Mila wasn’t my real mom. She told me so. But she’d always been there, just like my mom, so I call her my mom. She didn’t mind. I guess I could’ve called her auntie, too.” The dirt wasn’t hard to dig up. He was pretty much one of the only people who visited that area of the forest so it wasn’t yet packed down. Not many plants grew in what was the shade of the tree leaves. “I know I have a dad, but I never met him. Mom never wanted to talk about him. I think he died and she was too sad to talk about him, because she always said she’d tell me when I was older. ” He gave a one armed shrug. “But I’ll never know, I guess. I’ve tried walking the forest to see if there’s anyone who looks like me and might be my dad, but I haven’t found anyone. Maybe he’s in another wing.”
Once the hole was big enough, he once again buried the stalk of the crystal flower and started covering it up with the dug up dirt. “If you want to, I can show you around. I know the house pretty well, since I’ve always been here. I can show you all the cool spots.” He looked down at Daegan’s feet. “But maybe you want to get some shoes first? If we go to the winter room, your toes are going to freeze. Unless you want to leave that one for another day.”
Daegan didn't have much to say as he crouched on the ground close to Nibal. He was young and inexperienced in the world to really add anything to the conversation. He could however relate to the unspoken grief and frustration of no longer being able to talk to the people who probably had the answers to his questions.
Daegan quickly rose to his feet as well and considered the offer. He was torn between curious excitement and suspicious fear. In the end, curiosity got the best of him.
"Okay! That sounds like a good idea." If anything, maybe Daegan would find some answers if he looked around a little more. "I don't think I have any shoes. I didn't grab any before I went to live in the sewers with Shroomi." He shrugged. "But wait....winter room?" He tilted his head to the side in question.
“You lived in the sewers?” Nibal was surprised and concerned. It didn’t sound like Daegan’s life had been easy. Granted, he had only seen what sewers were like in movies, but any place that smells like poop can’t be good at all to live. “That sounds really bad. It’s good that you live here now. We can leave the winter room for another day, but if you want, you can use some of my shoes. Or we can ask Master Aristar and Master Johan for some shoes. They keep a lot of old clothes in the house for when people need it and they don’t have money to buy any. It’s where I get my stuff sometimes.”
At Daegan’s incredulous look, he offered a smile. “Yeah. I call it a winter room because it’s always cold there. There’s snow and everything. That’s where my snow fox, Matilda, lives. She needs to live in cold places because she has thick fur and stuff. I can show her to you whenever we go there.” That said, he stepped in the direction that lead to the door that connected to the living room. It was their best chance at exploring somewhere outside of the earth wing first. “Have you eaten anything, by the way? Maybe I can show you the kitchen, first.”
Daegan gave a start when he realized he had leaked a small truth about himself. All but slapping his hands over his mouth his eyes widened in shock. He wasn't embarrassed about his time in the sewers on the run, but for some reason having someone know that that had been a workable hiding spot for a long time, felt like some important secret had been spoiled. Or perhaps the strange feeling that washed over Daegan as Nibal expressed his concern about such a living arrangement was hearing his time in the sewer as a negative when a part of him wished he was still there - waiting for his family to come find him.
Either way, Daegan was grateful when Nibal changed the conversation towards shoes. Daegan's face scrunched up at the thought of willingly going to talk to that Aristar person. And though he didn't know who Johan was, if his name was said in the same breath as Aris, then perhaps he was also someone to avoid.
"Thanks!" Was all Daegan managed to reply, even managing to sound chipper. He would cross the shoe issue later.
The momentary wariness about shoes and sewers vanished instantly, only to be replaced by Daegan's endless excitable energy as Nibal explained the winter room. The whole thing sounded like something out of a book! But it was exciting to hear about Nibal's fox!
At the mention of food, the young boy's stomach growled loudly and Daegan laughed sheepishly. "I guess I am hungry. Maybe food is a good idea!" It would be nice to eat something that wasn't garbage!
Feeling a lot lighter in spirit since he first woke up in Dulce, Daegan hurried after Nibal. Fear quickly melting away into childish curiosity and excitement.
Shyfe: 3034 words
Deni: 2149 words