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Dawn crept up over the woods in the east, slits of sun sneaking into the open windows in Tucker's room. He was shaken awake by the sound of a crash downstairs. The scent of bacon crawled up the stairs, hitting his nostrils like a tidal wave.
"Good morning, human!" Zeek said, excitedly, as Tucker made his way into the kitchen.
"What are you making?" he asked him.
Zeek glanced down at his work. He had made breakfast for them, but he didn't know most of what humans ate and how they mixed foods together. Back home they only ate fish, grass, fruits, and the occasional wood bark. If he mentioned that, he was sure to get a laugh out of the haft.
"The first meal of the day," Zeek replied. "This is what you eat, yes?"
Tucker grimaced at what the fey had concocted. Cereal with ketchup instead of milk, strawberries burned with bacon and eggs. The eggs even had the shells mixed in, instead of having been left out.
It smelled partially delicious, but he could just tell it would taste horrible.
"Not together," he groaned.
"Oh." Zeek picked everything up and dumped it into the trash without a second thought.
"Ah!" Tucker moaned, seeing his skillet and bowl being thrown together so casually in the garbage. He tried not to listen to the sound of the bowl breaking.
"Shall I start over?" Zeek worried.
Even though they hardly knew each other half a day, Tucker knew that when Zeek stopped smiling it wasn't a good thing.
"Nooo," he said, striving to sound genuinely all right. "No. No. I'll find something to eat later." He tousled his own hair as he rested his elbows on the island's counter.
Zeek's chipper demeanor returned as he sauntered around the island, to sit beside the haft. "Alright," he said.
A moment of silence occurred. To make most of what he expected to be something rare, he turned his head, looking around to see if Flash was around. The rest of the house was empty, quiet, like always. Zeek was beaming when he rotated back round to him, his expression changing.
Bringing up his sister wasn't something Zeek was fond of, but he answered all the same. "She's out purchasing items for our journey," he said, halfheartedly interested. "We stole human currency from your clothing. We hope you don't mind." He honestly didn't care. The man looked wealthy with his big house, his fine clothing, and his immense amount of acreage.
"No. It's fine." Tucker was wondering why his wallet was missing. His foggy brain caught the other half of what Zeek said and he quickly spoke again before he forgot it. "Wait. What journey?"
"We're going to search for another portal," the fey said. He was talking as if Tucker could understand what he was saying. It was evident in the haft's eyes that he didn't follow. Zeek went on anyways. "It might take a while, since we don't own any of the proper tools to find out where one is in this world. So we're to go find the Elf Lord in order to obtain the proper objects. Hopefully He doesn't expect what happened last time to happen again…"
"What happened last time? Elf Lord? I'm so behind."
"It's alright, human." He patted his arm, disregarding the look on his face.
"You can just call me Tucker."
"I know. But I prefer the word human more."
Tucker sighed, burying his face in his arms. The kitchen was too bright for him, and Zeek was to chipper.
He moved his head to face Zeek, watching him watch him. "Why are you searching for the portal?" he asked.
Zeek played with his sleeves, pushing them farther up his arm. In the daylight his markings blended with his skin, appearing as if they were born on to him and not put there. Tucker didn't feel comfortable asking if they were born with them.
"To rescue Atlas," Zeek answered, though distracted. "He's not part of the yong colony anymore, only a prisoner. Neither I nor Flash can accept that as his fate, so we're going to go back."
"I see." The thought of them leaving caused a frown to form on Tucker's face. Though it wasn't his place, he didn't want them to leave just yet, or maybe not at all. Despite the lack of warmth coming from Flash, and the excess amount coming from Zeek, Tucker wasn't ready to let them walk out of his life this suddenly. This was one of those once in a lifetime moments that you'll regret not having done anything with once it's gone.
Zeek took note of his mood, and mistook it for something else.
"Don't worry," he said, taking another opportunity to touch the haft. He liked touching the haft. His skin was much cooler than any other species' he had touched before. "I was the top of my class in Service Training, and Flash is too stubborn to fail. We won't fail."
"That's not why I look this way."
"Oh." His hand returned to his lap. "Please explain."
Tucker sat up, rubbing his eyes to wake himself up more. "I just found out only hours ago that the fey are real, and the proof of that is going to leave in just a matter of time." He let out another sigh and rested his face in his upraised hand, his elbow hanging on the edge of the countertop.
Zeek's face illuminated as he grinned again, pleased. When was he never pleased?
"What makes you think we're leaving you?"
Tucker's elbow slipped and his cheek hit the surface of the counter. Now his cheek would be bruised on top of the injury on his nose, but he didn't care. Zeek, however, did. He flinched at the sight, avoiding having to look at his face.
"You're not?" Tucker said, winded.
The fey's laughter made a booming sound in the large kitchen. It made the room seem more welcoming, instead of its usual foreboding feeling because of all the black.
"We need a human to help with fitting in with society," he said, as if it was a well-known fact. "I thought we mentioned this last night."
Tucker stroked his cheek, wincing as the stinging sensation multiplied at the simple touch. "Perhaps you had," he mumbled, "but everything seemed to happen so fast. First she showed up, then you showed up, then there were arguments, and then there was leaping… I couldn't possibly remember everything said last night, could I?"
"Of course not." Zeek wondered just how bad haft's memories were. "But, yes, you are to come with us. If you wish."
"Oh. I wish."
"Lovely. Besides," Zeek bent closer to Tucker, "You are a unique human. I enjoy your company."
The haft's face went alight with color. Zeek's eyes crinkled as he expanded his smirk, his tattoo shifting to match the shape of his face.
"Do you mind if I drink some water?" Zeek wondered.
"No, you go ahead." Tucker tended to his face as Zeek wandered over to the sink, knowing how to pour himself a glass of water. For some reason Tucker didn't think he would.
Must be because they hardly know anything I say.
Something on Zeek's backside caught his attention as he rudely stared. It was another mark, this one on the back of his neck. It must have extended below his collar, for it was only the top half of a Japanese flower blossom tree, the same one he saw on Flash's hand.
He was about to ask what the tattoos meant when Zeek twisted around, drinking from a bowl. Tucker did his best not to laugh.
The two were noiseless as he drank his water, gulping down three bowls full. He sighed with satisfaction when he was replenished and returned the bowl to the cupboard. Tucker stood up once he sat back down and moved the bowl to the sink, rinsing it before he forgot.
Once Tucker had finished, he didn't know what else to say. Sit around and do nothing until Flash returned didn't sound appealing to him. He wanted to do something magical, but the thought quickly became ridiculous when he realized he had no idea what that really meant.
Zeek patted the chair Tucker had been sitting in before, suggesting for him to return. He solemnly agreed after another moment of not speaking.
The old grandfather clock struck ten on the hour from the hallway, and Tucker squirmed in his chair. He couldn't handle not speaking anymore. It was amazing Zeek could. If only he could hear the troubling thoughts in Zeek's mind at that moment.
"Where is the Elf Lord?"
Relieved they were speaking once more, Zeek said, "That's another problem we're facing," with a smile on his face. It didn't seem the proper expression to bear.
"You don't know, do you?" Tucker discovered.
"No," Zeek said. "Well…"
"What is your sister getting in town?"
"I actually do not know," he said, smile withering. "She left in quite a hurry. I hope she's all right."
"I'm sure she is," said Tucker, doing his best to sound comforting.
Zeek's mood soured rather surprisingly. "Someone could have followed us. The yong don't have to follow the same rules of travel like us fey do."
"I see." He really didn't.
"Also, there are other creatures in the human world that we're not used to," Zeek muttered, saying it like an afterthought.
"Like what? Vampires?" Tucker snickered.
"Don't be ridiculous." Zeek embraced his frolicsome side again. "Vampires haven't existed for centuries."
Tucker went white, his face feeling chilled.
"I thought you were kidding last night," he said, breathless.
"No." Zeek didn't see what the big deal was.
They were starting to return to the wordless ways they only just escaped when Tucker thought of something else to ask. He was getting into a better mood, a saner and less scatterbrained one. Last night he couldn't even form a complete sentence properly without a stutter and a new thought running the old one over.
"Why were you running?"
The question caught Zeek off guard. He was unsure if he should answer. It wasn't only his secret to keep, or his story to tell. Mainly it was Flash's secret, and her story.
"I don't want to bore you," Zeek said, trying to get his way out.
"I won't be bored," Tucker ensured.
Zeek intently looked him in the eyes, waiting for him to do something very haft-like. He wanted a confirmation that Tucker was like all the rest, only as he waited nothing happened. Tucker was waiting patiently to be told; he wanted to know as much as he could for no other purpose than to have the knowledge.
"Are you… sure?"
Tucker wasn't following Zeek's skepticism. He nodded vigorously. "Yes."
The excitement in Tucker's eyes caused Zeek to burst with excitement as well, uttering something he was sure to regret later.
"There has been a war between the yong and the fey for as long as we can remember. You can ask ten different people what the cause of the war was, and you'll get ten different reasons. The yong and us fey live in the same world, but miles and miles of trees separate the main colonies of both.
"Our mother, Flash and mine, participated in the war. She was one of the groups that hid in the middle and carried sythes of light to kill the yong when they were focused on the front men. She died serving for our species. The sythe Flash has belonged to her.
"Now, Atlas… Atlas is a yong, but only half, even though he looks like a full one. He had a fey for a father, who was killed when discovered hidden amongst their colony. Tryu is his half-brother, a full yong, and is very anti-fey."
Once Zeek was in charge of telling a story, he gave every little detail – from the beginning of the beginning to the very, very end.
"One day Atlas crossed borders on a dare by the other young members of the yong. He was to see how far he could get to the fey colony without being noticed by either side. He was the first yong to reach the Garden of Trust. His scent isn't the same scent as the rest of the yong. Instead he was burdened with the same smell as fey, and so the sensors surrounding the fey colony and the Garden of Trust acknowledged him as another fey.
"Flash goes out to the Garden of Trust to practice with her sythe quite often. She finds fighting courses in group aren't challenging enough, and when I'm busy she fights herself. Atlas was walking amongst the sunflowers when he stumbled across her. Not a smart thing to do, I might add, when she's in her 'moment.' "
Zeek absorbed himself in the story, speaking as if he was reading from a book.
Flash was cutting the air with speed, spinning and swaying with the sythe in hand, when she heard a rustle in the leaves behind her. Half a second ticked by when she turned and caught Atlas watching her. She ran straight for him, and for some reason he didn't think to move or run. He allowed her to hit him, which led to her knocking him down.
Atlas then kicked her in the stomach, sending her stumbling backwards. She grunted, returning to her feet, and stared at him as he began to watch her again.
Why aren't you running?
Neither did anything. They observed the other's movements, their gaze never breaking. If Flash moved to the left, Atlas would move to the left as well. It wasn't until Flash could hear someone coming did either of them move.
Her sythe went to his neck when he wasn't paying attention, and one of her legs went behind his to knock him over. His back clearly ached pressed against the soil after he hit the ground with a soft thud. The hand with the sythe remained at his neck, while the other signaled for him to remain silent or else the knife would dig into his skin.
Atlas knew this would lead to eventual death, since sythes are built to kill yong. He continued to keep as still as possible as the other fey passed without a worry. No one bothered to check on them, most likely because they never noticed Atlas wasn't a true member of the fey.
Once they were alone again, Flash let up the sythe a bit from his neck, allowing him to breathe properly. She only took the sythe out in fear he was there to kill her; he very well still could have been, but clearly he didn't.
"Why do you smell like a member of the fey?" Flash asked, angry.
He blinked, unresponsive.
The sythe was brought back to his skin, and he raised his hands in surrender, showing he was to answer.
"My father was one," he said. "I… I just wanted to see what one looked like in person."
Her brow creased. "Why come all this way? Don't you things have books? Are you too uncivilized for those?"
He growled, only to regret it later when she dug the sythe into his collar.
"I… We do have books," he said. "But the pictures in them are so poorly drawn, perhaps on purpose, and so I never really knew what one looked like. The pictures don't do justice."
Atlas smiled, which shocked her. She didn't know yong could smile. She, too, had been brought up on bad descriptions of the other species.
"You're beautiful," he said.
Zeek paused there to allow the drama sink in for Tucker. While he had a chance, he went back over to the sink and drank some more water from a bowl.
"Wow," Tucker said, exuberant. It was like he was a child again, and this was another of those fairytales that you just wish to be true. To his delight, this fairytale was true.
"I know," Zeek said, acting as if he concocted the entire thing up himself.
"You sound as though you were there," Tucker said. His words sounded to Zeek as if he were accusing him of simulating the altercation.
"We're siblings," he said, proud. "We share memories."
Tucker wondered just how many differences there were between haft and fey. He wanted to know them all.
"That must be awkward," he said.
Zeek shrugged, setting the empty bowl down, in the sink this time. "Only for her," he grinned.
"Would you care for me to continue?"
"Yes, please!" Tucker replied, a little too loudly.
Flash and Atlas started to see each other more, sharing secrets about the other species to better get to know each other. There aren't many similarities between them, not even the way they fight.
For a while, every time they met was at the Garden of Trust, since it was the only safe place Flash could think of in the fey colony. Everywhere else there was sure to be eyes watching her, and she knew that they couldn't be fooled into still thinking he were a fey once they had him in their sights.
Eventually they were caught, and Flash was banned from seeing him. Atlas was condemned to join the Service as his punishment, and since he had no tail anymore he wouldn't be any use. In time he would be put into confinement, since that was the second worst thing they could do to him.
Flash, being the stubborn girl she is, couldn't allow that to happen. Last night she broke into the yong colony – a first for a fey to accomplish alone – and fought her way through to get to him.
Once she had rescued him the two went back and hid in Willow, a town east of the fey colony. Together as a group, we devised a plan to go through the portal and hide out in the human world. The war cannot be brought to the human world. Humans are considered fragile.
We only had a minute to get through the portal, since we can only get through it at midnight. Flash was first, and she brought along the mattress – for me.
Atlas was to be next. That's when the ambush occurred. Tryu and his men stole Atlas back, just as the minute passed.
Flash was left to wait a whole day for me to come through the portal, so for her, it's been two nights.
"That's terrible," Tucker said, still so involved in the story. It was over now, however.
"That's life," Zeek said, shrugging again.
The front door opened and shut, knocking Tucker out of his daze. He looked over at the entrance to the kitchen as Flash came in. She still had on her combat boots, long sleeved-shirt, and dark jeans. Zeek was wearing the exact same outfit. Tucker was curious if all fey wore the same clothing, like a uniform.
In Flash's hands were three bags, each as heavy as the other. Tucker noticed Zeek wasn't going to help, and so he stood up and took two from her unwelcoming grasp. When she finally allowed him to take them he dropped them from the amount of weight in each. Zeek bit his tongue to keep the laughter at bay, and Flash didn't bother to notice. She emptied the one bag she still had left on one of the countertops, shifting through the objects.
"Would you like some help, human?" Zeek asked. He bent over to take the bags anyways, stealing them from Tucker's weakened arms.
Once all the bags were emptied on the countertop, Tucker rose up from the floor and looked down at what Flash had purchased.
There were three flashlights, ten glowsticks, a sewing kit, bottles of water, a loaf of bread, some apples, one knife, another utility belt – which he suspected was for himself, a compass, and as many maps of different places as Flash could get her hands on.
"How did you know how to get all this?" Tucker said, picking through it all.
"I asked the haft what she would suggest for someone going on a journey that's a matter of life and death," Flash said, speaking as if there were nothing wrong with what she just said.
"Good thinking," Zeek said, including himself in the conversation.
Flash took a double take on Tucker's face when she ultimately took the trouble to look up at him.
"Your face has blood on it," she remarked.
Zeek glanced between the two of them and patted them both on the back. "That's because you hit him," he said. "And that's also because he hasn't taken the chance out of his busy day to clean himself up."
She growled at him and returned her attention to their new possessions. "Do we have something to put this all in?" Her tone was on the brink of irate again, but she was doing her best to keep cool.
"Yes!" Tucker said. Without a pause he traipsed up the stairs, leaving the two fey downstairs, bewildered.
"What do you think he's getting?" Flash wondered.
"A gun?" Zeek laughed.
She shoved him, not following. Another part of the haft world she wasn't taught about.
In due time Tucker returned, taking deep breaths as he showed them what he ran for. The backpack was set down on one of the seats as he slumped into the other.
He gets windblown from a run up a flight of steps. Imagine what he'll be like when we have to run for our lives, Flash harshly thought.
"You're carrying that," she said, not caring which of the two men thought they were being spoken to directly.
Tucker picked the bag up and held it close to his chest. "So I'm coming with you guys, right?"
I thought I already told him yes. Zeek planted his face in one of his palms, questioning the brilliancy of humans and how much their brains absorbed and how much just went in one ear and out the other.
Tucker thought it best to ask again when Flash was around, seeing as it was her journey they were to go on and not Zeek's. He didn't want to weigh her down, and for some reason that caused him to make it look as if he had short-term memory.
Flash hesitated, glancing between her brother and the haft. She wasn't sure how to answer. Her brother appeared as if he wasn't willing to answer the question, either. The sight of him not going batty over Tucker asking another question caused her to narrow her eyes to slits as she frowned at her brother's back.
She stole a glance over at the haft and sighed at his lack of respect for himself. He was looking back at her, his expression one of a child's. "Only because we don't know this world," she reluctantly said.
"Great!" Tucker was beaming.
Zeek spun around in the chair, wearing the same face.
Flash did her best not to lose her head. "We'll have to restock in a few days," she said, keeping her mind on course, "but this should suffice for now. Unless…"
Her eyes moved back over to Tucker. Zeek followed her gaze, and when he found where she was looking with such mean eyes he hit her in the arm. "Oh, give him a break," he said. "He's only human."
She tended to where he had hit, hiding the pain behind her eyes. "Exactly." She was bothered all of a sudden by Tucker's lack of help. Without warning she snatched the backpack from his arms and set it atop of all the other items, not so much to be rude but to grab his attention without having to say his name.
He did exactly as she hoped, his eyes wandering over to her.
"Do you have boots?" she said. "Warm clothing? I hear it's cold where Azeekial lives."
His face lit up with joy. She was bothered by how happy he was all the time, worse than Zeek at times.
"I'll just go get ready!"
She also hated how he tended to shout quite a bit, also.
Once he bounded for the stairs, she made a face and rolled her eyes.
"He's not going to survive," she said.
Zeek focused on her, disappointed. "Don't say that," he tsked. "I think his upbeat personality is exactly what we need."
He hit her in the arm again, same place and everything. She could feel her markings burning with pain from his strength, and she struggled to not hit him in return.
"You're thinking horrible things, Flash," Zeek said. "Think positive. I'm sure that's what the human is doing."
One. Two. Three. Four. Five…
"I'll be outside. I saw a creek a mile out."
Zeek rolled his eyes, biding her farewell. As she started for the door Tucker showed up in the kitchen once again. It was evident he had showered, and it was astonishing he had done so in such a short amount of time.
It was a record for Tucker.
His face was no longer covered with his own blood. Without it, it was clear his nose wasn't as badly injured as it was made out to be.
"You can use my shower," he offered.
"I'd prefer not," Flash retorted.
She left without another word, the door shutting behind her the only sign she actually left. Zeek rose up from his seat once she was gone and began packing everything she had bought into the backpack.
"She's just worried about Atlas," he said, making excuses for her again, "that's all."
Tucker dried his hair with a towel. "I don't take it personal," he said. "Much," he added with a light laugh.
"That's the spirit!" Zeek smiled. "Now, would you mind helping me pack all of this away?"
Once they had packed the backpack full of everything, they had run out of things to talk about. Without Flash there, it was as if Tucker had become uninterested in the entire thing. Zeek wondered if he fancied his sister more than he fancied him, but he laughed at the thought.
She's in one of her moods. No one, not even Atlas, likes her when she's in her moods.
"So you really don't know where this elf guy is?" Tucker blurted out when the silence became too deafening. He hated silence. It was around him too often.
Zeek thought briefly. "Last time I was here, I think he was still living in… Spitzerpan?"
No. That can't be right.
"You mean Switzerland?"
A light clicked on in his head and he snapped his fingers at the revelation. "That's it!"
Tucker's thoughts went inward. "That's across the ocean. It'll take us about a day to get there. I think we'll have to get you passports."
"It's alright," Zeek said, brushing off the thought of any other way to travel than his own. "We'll leap there!"
The thought was unwise to Tucker. His eyes widened. "I threw up after last time."
Making an excuse for another reason to touch him, Zeek socked him playfully in the arm, smiling always. "That taught you not to eat beforehand, huh?" he teased.
Flash came waltzing in again, another person who had the ability to take very short showers. Her hair was wet as she brushed it back with her fingertips, and the markings visible were all bright blue.
Tucker did his best not to notice, embarrassed to have noticed at all.
"It's getting late," she said. "We should leave soon."
Zeek's eyes flickered to the clock. "It's only ten-thirty," he complained.
She acted as if it were the worst thing in the world – arguing with her. "That means we only have thirteen and a half hours left in the day. Let's get going."
"Sis," Zeek said, attempting to communicate with sibling nicknames.
"Don't call me that," she gaped. "That's a haft term."
He rolled his eyes.
Tucker enjoyed watching them bicker, as if they were any different than a human brother and sister squabbling.
"Flash," Zeek said in a mocking tone, "which do you prefer, leaping there or going the haft way?"
She mocked him right back, unaware humans did this, too. "Zeek, I would prefer the one that doesn't leave you in charge. Last time you leapt over a vast space we were off two thousand meters. It took you four other tries, and by then I was ill." Her hands now rested on her hips, a sign she was extremely irritated with her brother.
"If we're going to cross the border, I think it best we get you some passports."
Tucker ran up the stairs again, a useless amount of extra effort.