This is Chapter 4 from The Apostle: Destiny and is the book’s first introduction to the Eden children. It’s just a snippet of a much larger story. Enjoy!
“You’re not following the rules, Raios,” Mercy exclaimed in frustration; her hands on her hips.
Raios raised one eyebrow at his younger sister and said, “Rules are for those that wish not to lose, Mercy, aiming to win, I break rules.”
“That doesn’t make sense. If rules were for those that don’t want to lose they would want to win then,” she explained
“No. The rules are there because someone was losing and tried to change things up, that way they could win next time. May the best man win, that’s how I live.”
Dield was listening intently to this conversation. How was it that a game as simple as tag could be debated, he wasn’t sure. He also wasn’t sure which side was right.
“Well, I don’t like the way that you’re playing, so I’m not going to play anymore with you.” Mercy was clearly annoyed.
“Well, you’re only a baby so I don’t care whether or not we play this stupid game. I’ve got friends; I don’t need to hang out with you losers. You and Dield can go play with each other behind a bush for all I care.” Raios walked away huffy, giving Dield a swift punch to the arm on his way.
Dield cringed and his eyes welled up. Raios was four years his senior and had no control over his own strength. He believed it was because he was growing. Yet, deep down he knew it was because Raios didn’t care. His brother walked away in the haughty way he used to display, head held high and shoulders broad, step after step as if he had somewhere important to go. That was the thing about Raios, he always had somewhere to be and it was never with his siblings.
“Come on, Dield, we don’t have to listen to icky Raios. Let’s go find some other people to play tag with us.” Mercy tugged on Dield’s hand. His little sister had a way with words and he let her guide him down the dusty road toward who knows where.
Raios muttered some things under his breath that he knew his father would not approve of and stomped an angry trail all the way to his friend Tasch’s house. Tasch had been Raios’s friend since they were eight years old and Raios considered him to be the only other tolerable person on the whole of Tarthuria.
He knocked on Tasch’s door with some force and his friend opened it without hesitation, probably heard him stomping and muttering down the road. Tasch stood a few inches taller than Raios and was a handsome boy of fifteen; sandy blonde hair accented his narrow face and nose.
“The swine irritate you again?” Tasch asked as he allowed Raios to enter.
“Obviously, that damned sister of mine doesn’t know when to keep her mouth closed. She’s lucky Dield is there to shield her from my hands,” Raios stated with not a little venom in his tone.
“Well what today then? Pirates? Highwaymen? Guards?” Tasch asked.
“Obviously highway men. It’s what gets us the richest.” He patted his pockets which tinkled lightly with coin.
“Lead on. Where are the snots today?” Tasch closed the door behind them and followed Raios into the open air. The roads were dusty as usual, not much horse traffic to stir it up lately. Tasch’s parents were a little better off in Fairwillow than Raios’s and he heard a lot more than his friend did. Fairwillow was facing a drought right now he heard his parents say, that dust was starting to consume the town and that if they didn’t get some rain fairly soon crops would begin to die. Without crops the town would be next. Tasch’s father didn’t worry. He was a smith that specialized in fine crafted silver. Most referred to him as an artisan. His mother was a painter, and a fairly talented one.
“I know where they are playing, it’ll be easy pickings.” Raios walked with his friend down the dusty roads passing the roughhewn wooden houses, most of which weren’t painted because it wasn’t necessary. He was careful to avoid the town square and marketplace. He had developed a little reputation amongst the guards and it was better not to be seen. Using the back roads and grass as a path, he ventured toward the clearing where many of the town’s children played.
Mercy and Dield were in the clearing now with some of Mercy’s friends. Dield wasn’t known for his social graces and didn’t have many friends in town, but Mercy for her age was popular even by an adult’s standards. A simple game of hide and seek was being played. Dield was helping Mercy find some of the kids, many of which had become notoriously good at this hiding business. As he and his sister started to swathe through the tall grass and peak in some of the broken barrels and behind logs, Raios got the drop on one of their poor playmates.
“Look it here, scum face, cough up the coin and maybe, just maybe I won’t have Tasch bloody your nose.” Raios found a kid hiding in a more shallow part of the field, curled into a ball, just waiting for a wolf to come sniff him out. Unfortunately for him the wolf that did find him had teeth.
“N-n-no problem, Mr. Raios sir, p-p-please don’t sic him on me!” the surprised child muttered quickly and without confidence. He reached deftly into his pockets and took out his worldly belongings which included a wooden toy soldier, a half-eaten carrot, and some lint. “T-t-take it!”
Raios peered down his broad nose at the treasures bestowed upon him and scoffed with disgust. “I said coin, you worm,” he stated matter-of-factly. He nodded toward the child and Tasch went into gear, cuffing the kid’s ear with some force.
The boy’s eyes welled with tears and a sharp scream left his mouth. Raios put a practiced hand over the gaping thing. “Do not yell, else what comes next will be much worse.” The boy flailed and kicked and managed to get some ground to scamper away. Immediately Tasch began to pursue the little tike, but Raios grabbed his shoulder and stopped him.
“Not worth it, Tasch, he doesn’t have any coin anyway. I imagine that next time though he will. He’ll take little bits and pieces from the jar when Mommy and Daddy aren’t watching,” Raios said, confidence lacing his words. Tasch looked at his friend and smiled with a nod.
“What are we waiting for then? Let’s go find another,” said Tasch, now excited; adrenaline coursing through his veins.
The two of them crept through the tall grass and paid careful attention to their surroundings. When the neighborhood played hide and seek it was easy prey. They had soft footsteps developed through years of practice, keen eyes created the same way. When they worked together it was almost too easy, Tasch being the size and age that he was managed to intimidate the younger kids quickly and overwhelm the older. Raios had a nice control over the situation through calculated thinking. He discovered by pilfering his siblings banks that coin in Fairwillow provided a lot of opportunity, and being fourteen now, he saw that it was worth more than the occasional sweet snack. Being fourteen, all the same, he still invested in that sweet snack without much guilt.
Mercy and Dield were also busy searching for their playmates, their intentions a touch more innocent. Mercy liked to be the seeker, she always had. Dield on the other hand enjoyed hiding, that way he could pass by unnoticed. Their partnership worked in many ways because Mercy had the secrets of the seekers and Dield had the secrets of the hiders, a formidable force when it came to the game of hide and seek. A lot of the neighborhood kids knew this and enjoyed the challenge presented to them. Dield was a solid hider and Mercy had a great nose on her, so it increased the levels of competition. What they didn’t enjoy is that they always seemed to work together.
Mercy was ten years old now and it didn’t seem appropriate that she should always get help from her older brother. Two years makes a big difference in the lives and children and Mercy was already a little too good to begin with. You threw Dield in the mix and things became just a touch unfair. He was practically invisible anyway, it was difficult to get a word or opinion out of him, and he just seemed to go with the flow that was Mercy and on occasion Raios. This particular game though the pair seemed distracted, only three of ten found already by the time the game was usually switching hands. Several of the children watched through cracks in boards, bushes, tall grass, and behind walls to the stalking pair that seemed to have eyes planted everywhere but on their position. It was a day of triumph for hiders, not so much for seekers.
The pierced cry struck the air like a hawk diving at its prey. Mercy immediately recognized the sound of a victim being subjected to some foul play. She nudged Dield and whispered to him, “I think that the cry belonged to Farin. Isn’t he a friend of yours?”
Dield’s gaze met his sister’s piercing blue eyes and shrugged apathetically. “I guess. I don’t know. He’s never invited me over or nothin’.”
“Well, I think that we have another pair of seekers unfairly playing our field,” Mercy said.
“Could be. What do you want to do?” Dield asked honestly.
“We have to find them duh! Who knows how Farin is doing, and another kid could be the next.” She stopped whispering, confidently took her brothers hand in hers and strode toward the direction of the sound. Dield allowed himself to be led without hesitation and kept his eyes firmly to the ground in the case the attacker was a gnome or leprechaun, or some other worldly trivial thing that didn’t make him face the world head held high.
Mercy spotted a clearing in the bush and saw a frightened Farin running away, holding his ear. She could have sworn she heard him cry. Poor thing, probably didn’t stand a chance. She grasped Dield’s hand even more firmly and walked more quickly to the spot where, she assumed, he was hiding. When she got there she saw the faint impression of his body against the bush as if he lay against it trying to make himself invisible, but there were also feet indentations in the grass that were much larger than his. On the ground were a half-eaten carrot and a toy soldier.
“Do you see this?” she asked her brother Dield, who was busy examining the ground below his feet to make sure it stayed there.
“Huh?” he asked with all the grace of a jackass.
“These must have belonged to him. We have to get moving!” Mercy stood perplexed for a second, despite the urgency in her voice. Being a good seeker she was able to track where the kids moved usually but she didn’t see signs of movement anywhere. She let out a frustrated sigh.
“I think…, I think that they went this way, Mercy,” Dield said without much self-belief but pointing Northward. His height gave him an advantage in this case. He could see a slight parting of the bush that someone or something must have created.
Mercy nodded silently and grasped his hand once more, leading him in the direction to which he pointed. After a few moments Mercy’s suspicions were confirmed. She could see the backs of two of the stalkers about to pounce upon another one of her friends. She ran swiftly toward the culprits, dragging her brother behind her. Dield moved with the grace of an ox but managed to keep pace with his nimble sister. He saw what she saw and he was suddenly not as dedicated to the cause.
Pairs of eyes watched from all around as the children started to figure out Mercy’s goal. They heard Farin’s scream too, but thought he was just spooked by a spider. Shortly thereafter came Tasch and the lumbering Raios. They knew to avoid the two to the best of their ability, but Fairwillow was small and in small places it’s easy to stumble upon being victimized. Mercy moved with all the grace that they started to expect of her, it was almost uncanny the way that she could find things. Dield also moved with the grace that they came to expect of him. Sometimes it was a wonder the boy could walk at all. Hearts began to race as the prey started to approach the hunters. Make no mistake, despite Mercy’s good intentions; Raios was still the lion in this match-up.
“Stop!” A shriek flew through the air like an arrow and startled Raios and Tasch who were just about to make Klerk cough up some coin. They whirled around in a panic and swung wildly behind them. Mercy was just short enough to miss the blow, Dield, not so much. Raios’s fist struck him with such force that it knocked him to the ground. Tasch swung at nothing, stumbled, regained his footing, and analyzed the threat.
“Don’t you ever sneak up on me like that!” Raios yelled angrily.
“It’s just your sister then?” said Tasch nonchalantly.
Dield shook the stars from his pounding head and attempted to stand back up without much success. His cheek felt like it had been broken, and he was fairly confident that there was a cut there now. Despite Raios’s pudgy hands they hit with the force of a stone hammer.
“You cannot be going around and picking on my friends, Raios,” Mercy said.
“You’re lucky that Dield was there to take that one for you, Mercy. Now get out of here before I put you on your ass too,” Raios spat back at her.
“Why are you such a bully? I’m going to tell Mom and Dad on you as soon as we get home. Dad will see to whoop you,” Mercy stated without backing down from her brother’s scowling face. Her curly blonde hair was bouncing with fury and her eyes were set intently.
Raios did not budge, his dirty dark brown hair lay upon his head like a wet animal and his brown eyes met hers with just as much fury and will. “Tell Mom and Dad then will you? This isn’t your fight! Let your pathetic friends fend for themselves. If they have a bone to pick they can pick it with me? I wouldn’t want to hurt my own sister but I don’t think you understand the consequences of your words, Mercy.” He reached out to grab her but wasn’t fast enough. Dield gained just enough speed and strength to throw his brothers arm away.
“No, Mercy,” Dield said firmly, looking into her eyes.
She was caught off guard, her eyes wavered and the battle had been won. Raios smirked in victory and watched his sister’s head fall in defeat.
“Dield, why?” is all she could muster to say before she turned and walked away, her eyes filling with tears.
“The right choice there, brother, else I would have had to lay some hurt on both of you, instead of just you,” Raios said and swung his arm hitting Dield square in the stomach. His brother fell to his knees with a toppled ‘oomph’. Tasch chuckled and shoved Dield firmly onto the ground with his foot.
“Someday you’ll do well to listen to your brother, Dield. Raios is an idea’s guy. He’s pointing himself in a direction of success. Mercy is a dreamer who still thinks that might isn’t right. Dream on, Mercy.”
He looked down at the toppled boy and waited for Raios’s cue.
Raios spit on the ground next to his brother and gave him one swift kick to the ribs. “Defend her again and the rib will be broken next time.” He laughed and walked away, his eyes still searching for Klerk who was long gone at this point.
The pairs of eyes that were watching the event take place started to disperse. They couldn’t be sure of what actually happened between the fire and ice that was Mercy and Raios but they knew that Dield was made water because of it. Some of the kids pitied him; others felt like the world still turned. Dield being made into mush between his siblings’ spat was not new to any of them. But as Raios grew older and meaner, it seemed that Dield spent more time on the ground than on his feet.