Leo Vair sat relaxed against the golden brown oak that towered above him. He twirled a long green stem in his hand as he gazed out into the Mazarin Ocean. Burning oak mixed with a blend of salt permeated the breeze; a scent that brought comfort and serenity to the moment. Peace. The burning came from a dim light in a stack of kindling. The single flame released a curving and waving line of white smoke that danced in the air until evaporating. The sun's tip finally vanished over the top of the snow covered mountain behind him. The world grew darker in the shadow of the mountain. Leo sighed. The forest sighed back.
"Leo! Watch this." A pale young boy with a tattered brown coat ran along the edge of the cliff before him. He held a brown stick that he flung about furiously while he jumped, rolled and ran. "I'm going be a great warrior someday." The child proclaimed, eyes glossy with hope. He swung at a tree but missed and fell.
Leo chuckled "Yeah you will. The best of them. Just keep training, Zack." Zack smiled and ran some more. He slammed the stick repeatedly against a tree, high then low, then high then low. Leo looked away, far away. His eyes traveled across the ocean and skimmed the horizon. The dark blue line, that's where he wanted to be, the rim in the distance, somewhere else, anywhere else, beyond that horizon. His life wasn't terrible, even in it's worst moments it was tolerable. He liked it, a lot, but how many times could he smell his favorite aroma or watch these beautiful sunsets? Even paradise grows old. Leo wanted to fight - a life of adventure. To go somewhere he could be important. He stood up and closed his eyes. The crackling of the small fire spoke softly to his ambitious dreams. The rough bark of the tree rubbed up against his back. The grass tickled in between his toes. It was this very peace that drove him mad.
His eyes opened to the sight of Zack sprinting at him wielding the stick. Leo tucked and rolled. The brown stick cracked against the tree. "Come on, is that all you got?" Leo teased. Zack grabbed the two pieces of the stick and disappeared behind a tree. Leo hurled himself behind an oak as well. The night sky had caused the world to shift into a blue haze. Leo peered around the tree, nothing. He knelt down and crept towards the opposing tree. His hand skimmed the ground and wrapped around a rather large broken branch. Twigs cracked and snapped under his weight. He dug in his heel and cringed. Remaining still for several moments, he waited for a sign of Zack's whereabouts. His hand shook with the weight of the branch. Trees swayed and a quiet whistle rose up as the wind gained strength. His hold on the branch tightened. "Hey Zack, time to go home." he lied. A faint rustling came from his left. "Gotcha." Leo pounced. He roared as his tree limb boomed against the back of the tree. Tree bark fell to the grass below as the breeze rustled the bush next to him. There was no one there. Twisting around quickly he saw Zack right before getting slammed in the face. He took two steps back before falling to the ground. "How was that?" Zack giggled. "Did I do good?"
"Good." He rubbed his face "Really good." Removing his hand he revealed a large red mark. Zack giggled some more. "Ah, you think that's funny, do ya?" Leo grinned "Come here." He picked up his branch again. Zack's eyes widened and he ran. Leo dropped the stick and laughed.
"Having a good time are ya?" Leo's laughter faded some as he turned his head to the new figure looking out to sea. The figure was a rather tall young lad, same age as Leo. His hair, dark and uneven, was brushed across one eye. His clothes were worn, a scar of poverty that echoed Leo's clothes as well. His eyes were fixed on the horizon, filled with the same glow as Leo's had only a moment before. "Didn't expect to see you here tonight." Leo stood up, eyes locked on him. "I wasn't planning on coming." He continued to glare forward. "But I had nowhere else to go. The whole damn city is crawling with those anemic demons. Peering around every corner looking for those too weak to fight back. Tormentors, damn them to hell." He blinked.
"Well then, good to see that you're in a cheery mood. I got the fire going." Leo gestured towards the smoking pile of sticks.
The kid chuckled. "Like hell you did. This is pathetic at best, isn't it?" He kicked some dirt on the pile and the light went out.
Leo jumped at him "Hey! What you do that for?"
"I'll make a better one. Don't you get all fumed over a tiny night light."
Zack reappeared a couple yards away. His bleach blond hair jumped up and down as he ran around them. His pale blue eyes widened at the sight of the new arrival. He brought his hands up and cupped them over his mouth and shouted "Zalmon! Hey, Zalmon!" He then waved franticly.
"Well, well, if it isn't the mighty little warrior." Zalmon gave a slight wave and then turned back to Leo. "I saw him take you down on my walk up here. It was rather amusing." He smiled.
"I let him win." Leo defended. "to boost his spirits."
"It didn't look that way." His smirk grew larger. Zalmon bent down and began picking up dried sticks and arranging them into neat piles. Placing them smallest to largest in a sort of mini pyramid.
"Well, I did. So, where have you been lately? I looked all around. I checked your usual's, couldn't find you."
"I went away for a while. The air around here was getting a little to thick with the stench of the tormentors. Had to hide for a bit. Should still be there." He reached into his tattered coat and took out two small stones. He held one still while violently striking the other one. Sparks hopped around the kindling before creating a descent fire. He leaned forward and blew. "How about you? Where you been?" He peeked at the ocean.
"No you haven't." He lost his smile and stared into the fire.
"What?" Leo questioned.
"You haven't been here. You've never been here, your body maybe, but never your mind. It's to busy starring off into the distance. Dreaming, like mine. Always thinking of what comes next and never seeing the present. Concerning ourselves only with the invisible, like hysterical blind men. No, we've never been here." He stood and placed his hand on Leo's shoulder. "It's time we accept that and get out of this horrid routine we've come to call life. Let's go to the rim."
"I..." Leo glanced at the stars reflecting off the oceans waves. He stood frozen in the thought of it. Nothing else compared to the idea of going, finally going. The dark blue line curved in the distance slowly vanishing as night conquered the sky. "...Can't." He turned his gaze towards Zack. "I just can't."
"Yes you can! You don't want to stay here forever, I know that, you know that. So, let's just go."
"Zalmon, my brother depends on me. He doesn't have anyone else. You know as well as I what happens to the young children in the orphanage if no one protects them. That's why you protected me. Now I'm protecting him." Leo rubbed his temples. He hated having this conversation.
"So that's your final answer. I'm never going to be able to change your mind?"
"Well, that's to bad," he said as the firelight reflected in his eyes, "I'm going. I can't linger in this dead existence any longer. Take a look around, hope you're happy. You'll be stuck here for the rest of your life. I'm leaving for Oxonia tonight. Goodbye Leo."
"Zal wait. Please."
"I've waited long enough! You want to waste the rest of your life here? Fine! But I'm leaving. I've found something better. Something worth living for." He buried his hands in his pockets and walked off. Leo stood helplessly and watched his friend shrink to a spec and vanish in the distance. Right then and there the night became cold. A snowflake froze and surfed the wind. It fell uncontrollably. Spinning and spinning before resting on nose of a blond headed child looking up at his older brother.
"Leo..." Young brown eyes blinked.
"Can we go home now?"
"Yeah, let's go home."
Zack started down the trail. Leo didn't move.
He turned and kicked dirt on the fire. The glow disappeared, leaving them in darkness.
The walk back was easy. They had crossed it a hundred times. Leo's mind drifted as he walked. What if he had gone, what would it have been like? He could sail on a boat to the Dorian docks at Oxonia, pickpocket his way to wealth and fight his way to respect. He would have Zal watching his back and no one would mess with them. Unfortunately there was a question. A pesky question that seemed to always be in the way, what would he do with Zack? Zack wasn't old enough to live on the streets. He was too fragile. If it wasn't for him Leo would be off on his adventure, but instead he lived in his majesty's orphanage for lost lads. Zal left that terrible place a long time ago and started living on his own, but Leo couldn't leave Zack there by himself. So, Leo stayed.
They arrived to the home late that night. Everyone was in a quiet sleep. Zack ran to his cot and crawled in. He laid the sheets by his feet and waited for Leo. He tucked Zack in tight and whispered a promise into his ear. "We will leave this place some day." As soon as Zack closed his eyes and was gone. Leo leaned in and kissed his head. "Good night." Zack lay there peacefully with a slight smile on his face. That was the reason Leo couldn't leave. That smile on his brothers face as he went to sleep. He couldn't bare the thought of watching that smile fade as he rode off without him.
Leo did as he did every night; he stood at the window on the opposite side of Zack's bed and looked out into the night. The moonlight illuminated his one pale blue eye and his red eye. A shard of broken glass, all which was left of the window, reflected his stare back at him. Leo hated his eyes. For as long as he could remember his eyes had been the target of ridicule. Even worse, most people considered a boy with different colored eyes to be cursed. It had made an already hard life, harder.
He looked out to the thick and dark forest that blocked him from the ocean. He thought for a moment, and then stopped thinking at all. His mind emptied, and his focus shifted to the breeze as it drifted back his hair slightly. An invigorating sense of calm surrounded him and brushed against his cheek. He always loved the night. Ever since he could remember he would run to the sea to watch the sunset and then close his eyes to embrace the first few moments of night, then look out onto the sea and imagine life away from here. A life at the rim. That's where he met Zal. One day Zal was just standing on the edge of the cliff gazing at the horizon. Leo approached him. Zal looked over his shoulder and then went back to peering of into the distance. "This is as close as I can get. Sad, isn't it? I can see it but I'll never get to go to it. Like a body at a funeral, only for show. You see, no one cares about the body. They look at it merely because it's all they have. What they really want is the person it once held. So what do they do? They stare. They stare and stare and stare but like me they are as close as they'll ever get. After a while, though, you start to understand that it isn't as great as the real thing. It isn't fulfilling enough." They then exchanged names and met there every so often and the rest is as it was. History.
Leo looked into the woods from which he came. The treetops were powdered in white from the light snow falling down. He sighed. The world was growing cold. The time of dull colors and constant discomfort was almost upon him. Leo didn't like the cold. He couldn't explain it, just something about it. He leaned onto the window and thought. If it had to get cold he wished it would freeze the ocean. That way he could run to Oxonia. The thought made him smile. He stared forward and emptied his mind again.
Suddenly, as he let his gaze unfocus, a small luminescent amber spot materialized in the center of the window frame. Leo snapped out of his void of thought. He took a half a step back and tilted his head. The spot floated, locked in that one place. Leo examined the room, everyone slept peacefully. They shifted in their beds at the end of one dream and the beginning of another. No one noticed the spot. Leo leaned forward. This small fiery orb hovered perfectly in place, slowly spinning clockwise. Leo's hand reached forth. His lengthy finger came close to its surface but felt no heat. Instead, it was cold, freezing in fact, and it buzzed with energy. "What is this?" He gulped. With shaking hands and wide eyes he made contact. A single fingertip met it's surface.
Leo was the first to know what he had done. The dot expanded outward. The light from the orb grew unfathomably bright. Leo shut his eyes. The force pushed against his chest and knocked the wind from his lungs. He was then absorbed. First the chest, then shoulders, and then his head. His eyes rolled back into his skull and then there was black. Nothing but the black.