Author's note: This story is also on wattpad with the same name.
Chapter 1Bag. Coat. Gloves. Knife. The crisp morning air hits me as I draw a few short breaths. One step into the forever lasting snow and ice rattles my bones. Frozen trees slide by as I run to the watering hole that animals gather at. Two boys meet my gaze causing a smile to run across my face and into my eyes. The smallest runs in my direction but the oldest grabs him. His muscles show through the thin shirt he wears. The brown hair reflected the sunlight as his gray eyes mimicked the foreshadowing rain
Privet squirms out Thyme's arms and into mine. The hair that covered his innocent five-year-old eyes sways as he shakes about, causing my bag to fall on thinner ice that almost breaks the surface. Thyme grabs the bag before ruffling my sticky hair. "Have to love Odin," he jokes "ice everywhere and nothing but Saws."
As though hearing their names the Saws swim out of the watering hole. The mammoth-sized seal walrus government hybrids were made to provide more meat for the people of Odin. Saws were only about twenty percent meat, organs, and tissue while fifty percent was blood and thirty percent was blubber. Thyme brought one down with a knife, causing its blood to run across the white snow, soaking it through with lines of red and white flower patterns. Privet was distracted with skinning a bunny when Thyme got my attention. "You can almost hear the bombs being made in Kodru."
"Today is only the first of May, four more days and we'll be-"
"What?! Fine? They are going to bomb every one of us just to prove they can!"
"We just have to wait it out. Everything is going to be alright."
"Say that to the hundreds of mourning families."
The conversation came to a sudden end as the words penetrated my mind. Those bombs will be coming to Odin soon, destroying everything in its path. Last year when Thyme and I had this talk it was on May fifth. Fire bombs rained down from the sky but didn't reach the watering hole. After that we considered this our safe haven and gave it the name Halo. A few months later the Tournaments began, making the citizens of each town suffer. Thyme always finds a way to sneak into the drawing room to pull out his name, my name, and Privet's name. The town of Pan always had the best Tournament or so I heard. Children from every family had to rely on their survival instincts and common sense. The arena would be large enough to hold more than a thousand young children to pre-adults. Unfortanetly Pan was utterly destroyed in the Government bombings. Odin's Tournaments just involve dipping kids in the icy water until they die a cold death. Watching the Tournaments always gave me a thrill like no other. In Rán, children would have to live without their parents for six weeks. They only started to do this because of Pan's destruction.
I cooked the Saw meat while Privet braided my thick mahogany hair. Our creme colored skin almost blends into the mid-day snow. The meat was chewy like bubble gum I sometimes bought from the stores but the taste was refined.
May second came to soon. Since Thyme and I are seventeen we no longer go to school as Odin law states. Our parents are no longer good since Thyme's father is a drunk and his mother can barely move without triggering a migraine. My father on the other hand is dead so my mother is working various jobs throughout the day. Privet is in school therefore I walk downtown and buy small cherry candies and read the newspaper to waste time before picking him up. The candies stick to the roof of my mouth as they slowly melt to reveal their hidden cherry syrup treasures. The syrup trickles down my throat and settles unevenly in my stomach. News is never pleasant around the frozen wasteland of Odin. More pictures of thawing fisherman and starving children show up on the front cover everyday. We receive no information about the other towns except about the rapid improvement of the burn facility in the Anbay hospital.
My cherry candies quickly run out as I absent-mindedly ate them too quickly. Privet ran into my leg holding a clear baggy filled with a rainbow assortment of gum balls. My mouth tingles as it always does after indulging in the cherry candies. "Sorrel?"
The sound of my name being called turned my attention to him. "Yes, Privet?"
"What are we going to do on the fifth?"
The question startled me but Privet was a playful boy who was merrily just curious. Right? "Don't worry about it." I smile down at him and rub my knuckles in his hair, fluffing it like a Liger.
Walking back home was a task since the snow covered most people's legs up to their knees. Mother cooked while I hung my wet coat over the fire. The house was small and made of a light weight wood from a few towns over. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, one kitchen, and one dining room was all. It was nothing like the fancy five bedroom houses other towns had. The aroma of Saw blood dripping down to burn at the bottom of the pot nauseated me. She served me quietly, grabbing her parka in the process. Not even a kiss before she flew out the door, leaving it ajar in her hurry. After draining the blood out of the bottom of my bowl and shutting the door, I collapsed into bed still clothed. Taking off my heavy boots even seemed like too big of a challenge for me to overcome at this moment. Sleep came soon but I wondered if Thyme was still awake, arguing with his father as bottles flew across the room like canons in a battle. In school we learned about battles with cannons. It was before the world was ruined and we took over a place that used to be called "North America."
May third. Two more days until Odin is devoured in a giant pit of hellish flames. Preparations are to be made for the event. Mayor Poppy will walk on to a rounded platform and read a speech to us (rumor has it she only plans to apologize this year.). A screen will show us the bombings of the other towns as we silently wish on dandelions that float in the frozen air. My eyes follow along the roof until I see my Hunting Day dress. During the so called "celebration" we remember the olden days. The dress is elaborate and goes to the tips of my painted toe nails. Flowers adorn the eggshell dress with blue and yellows. The neckline cuts low and it laces up in the back like sneakers. The slim fitting outfit makes me feel self-conscious since it shows virtually everything and I have a few features I would like to stay hidden. It's sleeves open up at the elbow then flows out like a bird taking flight. Bells are put on my wrist and ankles that annoy me as I run to safety.
My eyes dart away from the dress and to the open doorway. A scream gets pulled up my throat as a large shadow fills the room. My muscles tense then relax as the looming shape turns into Thyme's body. His thin smile tells me this isn't just a welcome visit. Once again I scan the room but now it's for Privet. "Is something wrong?" my voice shakes until I notice the calendar says Friday. Provet is still in school for the week and won't be home until later today.
"Just worried about...Hunting Day."
"It used to be called 'Day of the Hounds' if that makes you feel any better." I manage to persuade a laugh out of him before a frown replaces it.
"Are you ready to run? They might go early this year for the surprise element."
"We are always last, we would know to run." a heavy sigh filled the room then exited as mine replaced it.
"I'm sick of running. Did you know that?" his voice started to rise as his hands clenched themselves into a fist. "We aren't just animals they kill for sport! We matter just as much as they do! I just wish we could do more than just run away like frightened children!"
His breath came out jagged as he tried to calm himself down. Thyme reminds me of coal since all it needs is a flicker of a flame before the fire eats them from the inside out. With one last look at my Hunting Day dress I fall back with Thyme. We sleep the morning away which turns into a day wasted to rest.
Saturday, May fourth. Tomorrow we will be herded like cattle just to scatter like roaches. I grab my coat and run to the Halo to calm my jittery nerves. The Saws are even hiding from the tense morning. Only a few surfaced, children that didn't know any better or better yet, rebels. While skinning them I think of my mother and how she works so hard just to survive. She probably wishes to die tomorrow in the bombings. How I hope not, she has so much potential, so much to live for. The younger Saws dont have as much meat as the older ones do, leaving my stomach growling in response. Their bodies were only about the size of my bed-a standard queen size. The ice thinned out over the day causing my pants' legs to dampen. Looking to the sky, I saw the sun setting already. It was only one in the afternoon. During a normal week I would have been with Thyme and a few of his friends but everyone was preparing for Hunting Day. The rest of the day was just the Saws and me hanging out.
The bombs came at night. Red shooting stars on a midnight backdrop. Quick as hail when coming down to rise like the Pheonix. Sparks jumped every which way turning homes into a pile of firewood, souls into charcoal. We shall not be reborn but lie in the ashes of yesterday and the foundation of tomorrow. Screams awaken the resting, throwing unprepared children into frozen streets. I bolt through the door without shutting it behind me. My mother's night job has already been devoured by the beast. I was hell-bound for my destination. Every gulp of air was getting harder to take in. That sandpaper sensation that scrubs your lungs and blocks your throat slowed my running dangerously. The Halo was my last place of refuge as I left the burning town of Odin behind.
Thyme was already there but was looking off into the distance with panic in his eyes. Those same eyes had laughed with me, told me stories, gave me a glimpse of Thyme's inner self, yet I ever saw them like this. His gray eyes burn through me as he lets the tears escape him. Heavily breathing he spoke to me with a cracked voice. "Where is Privet? You were supposed to bring him."
Before I could tell him i didn't remember that part, he rushes at me. Only to go back to Odin's burning core. My only option was to chase after him and make sure he doesn't fry.
Privet is staring at a burning building. His cheeks wet and red from crying. Thyme reaches Privet and throws him in his arms, stroking the back of his head and cooeing that it would all be alright. The little boy's hand stretches out to the fire as he screams for his mother. His voice keeps cracking as fresh tears stream down. Privet has watched his mother die and now we are dragging him away to an uncertain future. Thyme starts at a sprint but as smoke fills his lungs, his pace slows to a jog, then finally a walk as we reach the Halo. Privets ground shattering screams of emotional trauma had yet to stop, along with the tears. The ice around us begins to glow an eerie red. My fingers were cool on the underside yet warm on the top, as though some supernatural being had baked us in its heat. I close my eyes and tilt my head up to soak in the unfamiliar sensation of being warm. My ear drums suddenly and begins to pound a-hundred-beats-a-minute. The last thing I remember is Thyme dragging me to my feet as a firebomb falls out of the sky and onto the Halo.
Someone must have saved me. I wasn't dead even though there was absolutely no way we couldve out ran the bomb. Laying on my stomach I pushed myself off the ice to view my surroundings. We were still on the outskirts of Odin by the looks of it. Thyme seemed to of taken almost no damage at all but Privet was another story. His skin seemed shiny in some spots and wrinkled in others. The pink spots on his skin where the flames licked him appeared to be wet, possibly infected? He needed a medic desperately but the closest town for miles around was Anbay, which was a days journey by train. Who knew how long it would take on foot? Thyme reports in having seen living people in Odin but our families are dead. All we have is each other and in no way was that enough. "What do we do now?" I ask since my mind automatically voted him as leader of the group.
"Get to the burn center in Anbay. It's a long journey but I'm sure we can make it there if we try. We've hunted Saws and have been raised on Ice our whole lives. We're braver than half the nations soldiers! We can do this, Sorrel."
"Is Privet in the condition to travel?" I give a concerned glance at the heap of barely salvageable skin and boy. Instead of answering my question, Thyme gingerly scoops up the boy in his arms and heads in the general direction of Anbay. Chunks of ice knock against my ankles and leave a stinging sensation. Thyme's boots crunch on the snow leaving footprints that fill with sloshing water melted by the bomb's ray. The effects of the bombing are starting to show. Privet slips in and out of consciousness as the cool wind whips around his body like a blanket. Looking up at the sky I could tell the sun was setting and we needed to rest. Tempature drops could kill us over night if we don't find shelter. Not a cave in sight. Somehow this didn't seem to worry me quite that much since the hazy atmosphere of smoke trapped in heat low to the ground. Yet if we can find wood will it be safe enough for a bonfire? Will the air burst into flames, suffocating us? Low moans of Saws awakening break off at the horizon where the sun is growing old. Orange fills up around purple clouds and pour color into the alabaster snow. My concerns seem to vanish as it soaks my clothes in heat and light. Mmmmmm! Heat! Privet's groaning snaps me back to an unfortunate reality. Smoke trails appear to come from Privet's skin as Thyme sets him on the ice. The decision had been made to set camp here. Only a few minutes seem to pass before baby snores can be heard. The ones that sound like heavy breathing more than actual snores. I lie on the frozen floor before turning my head to Thyme. The setting sun spills through his dark brown locks that cover his head in a messy fashion. He appears to of thinned some since before. Stress maybe? "Stay with Privet while I hunt." the sound of a human voice was surprisingly shocking.
He was off before I could say goodbye.
A newborn sun woke us from an ice crystal slumber. Saw meat was cooked and left to dry as we eat seperate pieces. Not once had the thought of never seeing my mother again occur to me. We barely saw each other so the loss wasn't great. The smoke disappeared, leaving behind a grey sky the color of ash and death. Thyme barely gives us time to extract liquid from the snow before we are back on our feet. Oh how they ached! Even walking in a different way shot paralyzingly pain all the way up to my thigh. The below freezing tempatures of Odin barely warmed a degree as we trudge past Saws and Plears (indelible, feral, penguin-polar bear government hybrids). Shaking the cold out of my head, we walked until night fell upon us.
The hot air was gone, leaving my fingers to fall off. Nose running, violent tremors rumbling my whole body, teeth chattering, it's misery. Privet and Thyme shared their body heat but I was left alone. Taking the blubber from past Saws, I drape it around me then Thyme and lastly Privet. Bliss was the first word to find itself in my brain. Sleep comes soon.
Crunch...crunch...crunch...thump! I fully come to my senses as my head bangs against something. Blood pounds like a drum in my head as I swing back and forth. The back of Thyme's legs are visible. He had carried Privet and me during the night. I am suddenly embarrassed as I notice I am holding us up. "Rise and shine!" his mood is awfully cheerful.
"You're too happy!" Privet exclaims, obviously waking up on the wrong side of Thyme's shoulder.
"I could see the towers in Anbay! We were too close to stop and rest!" Thyme gently drops us on the ground so we can catch a glimpse of the buildings. They are awfully close, like giants waiting specially for our arrival. A few more miles and we will be walking on the soft sand, grass, and concrete of Anbay while leaving behind a frozen Odin. As we walk I wonder if Pan survivors feel this way. Like it is wrong to abandon your home for a new one. What if everybody depended on someone else to fix Odin, but no one stayed? What if Odin is now just like Pan? What if...the possibilities fill my head all the way to the iron sign that welcomes us to Anbay.
I was in awe. The bustling streets and full households were nothing like Odin. We strip of our heavy winter gear to soak in the ocean side breeze. Sand covers our boots and erode away the ice and snow of home. Thyme had already asked for directions to the hospital before I finished admiring the bright blue sky. You would not believe that this place had been bombed three days ago. Everyone is following what seems to be an everyday routine. Stopping at the market, sipping coffee casually with friends, breathing in the salty fish smell of the sea.
Before us stands a blue and green building which is the same building we caught a glimpse of when walking here. It's oddly bright for a hospital, but then again Anbay is such a happy-go-lucky town. Inside is a bustle of rushing nurses and clipboards clicking against lanyards and pens. Name tags flash by too quickly to be seen, like the mexican mouse in Privet's history books. A tall man in his mid-forties asks for our names and relations. "I am Thyme Aster, this is my wife Sorrel Blackthorn, and our son Privet Aster." His reply shocks me as the doctor takes Privet away and leads us to an office. It's just a casual office like any other with a desk, table, couch, bookshelf, and map of the nation. Shortly after being seated, a young blonde man enters. A white coat over black pants, shirt, and shoes shows he is a main doctor, yet he appears to be only our age. The brown in his eyes twinkle as they glance around the room and fall on us. "Doctor Palm Michaelmas. You two must be Mr and Mrs. Aster, Privet's parents." we shake our heads to verify the title. "Could you please start by telling what happened?"
As Thyme begans to recount the tragic events and losses of our lives, I examine Dr. Michaelmas thoroughly. Just a quick glance in his direction and he would blend in with the rest of Anbay, but you could tell he didn't have that look to him. The soft eyes and wrinkled face of Anbay was no where to be seen on Michaelmas. His look...it can't be can it? His look is...Pan. The hard appearance of piercing coal eyes that burn through you. A defined cheekbone that gives them an elegant advent. The light hair plays tricks on the eyes and mind. Yet not only does he have the Pan aura to him, it's the aura of someone from Lower Pan. The way he holds his body to capture the regal, mysterious, deadly game that is Lower Pan. Women stalked the street in risqué attire while men like Thyme's father drank the night away. Even if he was he couldn't of stalked the streets waiting for a fistful of money to come his way. The line of his neck muscles gently being stroked by curious women...no. No, I will not allow myself to ever think of a doctor, for Pete's sake, ever doing that. But...footsteps are audible from down the hall, coming all the way until they reach the door of Dr. Michaelmas' office. "Sir," the gentleman takes deep breaths while greeting him. The man must be at least twenty years older than the doctor yet spoke with such respect. "Privet has stopped breathing but vomit is occurring! What do we do?"
"Put the boy on an oxygen mask and let him vomit. I'll be there as soon as I can."
The man leaves with a nod but question swirl in my head like angry wasps. "What is going on?" is the I manage to get spit my emotions out.
"Your son is fine Mrs. Aster. It's a physiological problem causing Privet's mind to choke and vomit from imaginary smoke. Heavy sweating from the flames in his imagination and fatigue are possible side effects. It is nothing a little medicine can't solve, an ounce to be exact." a low hum comes through a speaker followed by in audible speech that Dr. Michaelmas seems to understand. "Privet will need to stay over night so I will show you where you can rest if you walk this way." he checks his watch"My shift is over anyways."
Dr. Michaelmas leads us down the hall and back into the morning light. Overhead a small pack of Rays (robin-bluejay hybrids with a slight violet tinge) fly in the direction of Odin making a purple "V" in the sky. We follow Dr. Michaelmas across the street to an apartment building almost as tall as the hospital itself. Inside, the halls and lobby are the same shade of green and blue as the other buildings. Adorned with seashells, the walls glisten in the fluorescent lights of the ceiling. A mural of a mermaid covers the elevator which conveniently stops on the third floor. No long stair walks! When observed closely you could see that there was no fifth floor. The buttons just jump from floor four to floor sixth. I began to count on my fingers the months until May: five. Hunting Day. The fifth.
Dr. Michaelmas goes to door number twenty then gestures across the hall to room twenty one. "Home sweet home! If you need anything, anything at all, I live right here at room twenty." as he unlocks the royal blue door of room twenty he glances back at me. With a smile on his face he laughs and says: "Call me Palm, we have more in common than you may think." leaving me puzzled outside his door, he locks it and I can hear the chain lock being slid home.
Dried seaweed hangs like drapes over the windows and light shines on the sea-foam of the walls. There are three bedrooms and one bathroom in which the tub has claws and a trident painted on to the side. As we sat on the white velvet couch to rest our legs my mind wandered back to Palm. How did we have more in common than I thought? Is this about him being from Pan, and not even High Pan?
"What did he mean by 'we have more in common than you think?'" So Thyme had been wandering the same thing.
"Maybe he just means he knows the pain we are going through." I say
"He is our age and people address him as if he were the mayor of Anbay!"
"A genius possibly?"
"Have you noticed how he looks as though he is from Lower Pan?!"
"Why yes, I have actually..."
"Nothing but dirty women and filthy men!" He screams at me
"But he is a doctor."
"Do you think he's on to us?" His voice dropped down to a whisper
"We aren't criminals you know."
He began to pace the floor, scratching his head in a generic 'I'm thinking' fashion. "I'm going over there."
Before I could stop him he managed to burst open the door in one swift gesture, almost slamming into Palm's door, then furiously banging his fists on it. There wasn't an answer. Obviously being ignored, Thyme knocked harder, trying the handle next. I noticed a small ray of light shining next to Thyme's flailing fist. The door was slightly ajar, being held that way by a chain lock. That wasn't even locked!
But he had just...I heard the lock...Thyme dragged me back to our little apartment room as my thoughts ran away like a dog.
The day would be a boring one I could already tell. Not only because we would be pondering over what Palm had said but because our little ball of energy and portable entertainment was lying stiff in a bed. By the looks of his injuries it wasn't difficult to tell that we wouldn't be able to visit for a bit. Would it really be that bad to check up on him? We are his 'parents' after all aren't we? The possibility of even considering to ask Thyme was out when I saw him with his knees drawn up to his chest, face in hands inbetween the couch and the end table. Even though I personally had no siblings I still felt his pain for Privet. The thought of losing him was like losing a child of your own if not worse.
Crawling on the the floor to get to him was probably not the most adult thing to do. We cuddled together as tears spilled onto my cheeks. His rough hands smoothed the top of my head in a repetitive way as my name pours out from his lips into semi-seductive whispers. Placing one hand on his shoulder I glanced upward at his face. His cheeks were as wet as mine though he didn't appear to be crying. No red eyes or puffy cheeks to top off the waterworks display. Just smooth shiny cheeks that glistened to show he cared.
"What if he chokes during the night and no one is there?" I sob
Instantly shushed, my closed lips trembled as my brain filled itself with memories of Privet. How he had come running to me as I read about the burn hospital. Broken sobs erupted in my chest, blurring my eyes with salty and fresh tears.
"Privet will be fine since he's at one of the best burn facilities in the nation." Was this supposed to reassure me?
"Why won't tommorow come already?!" Cursing at the wind and shouting at the heavens didn't help my case. But it sure felt better than bottling my emotions like champagne, just to let the cork hit someone in the eye at the worst imaginable time. To block out the present I reflected on the past even if just for a brief moment it was better than nothing.
The way Saw meat smelled when it burned and how Odin always had cherry candies melting in the arctic sun just for me. The tingling sensation that they left on my tongue replaced the bitter numbness in my cheeks. I could taste the liquid flowing on my mouth as my teeth pierced their thick chocolate coating. Sadly, my reflection didn't last as long as I hoped, for my present is as bleak as the past. "Is it dark yet?" I whispered
A small chuckle responded then: "Somewhere it is." His face grew serious as a shadow devoured his features "Yes, it's growing dark."
"Goodnight." I waved with a smile before crossing to my new bedroom, punching off the lights and floating in the soft cotton mattress, only letting a few tears slip on the sheets.