Chapter 8: Episode 32- "Only Human"
“Where is Cora? That’s the only question that matters now.” Regal said, pacing the grassy court beside the living area, disappearing and reappearing into Hercule’s view as he passed behind the several stone pillars bordering the courtyard.
“Why do we need her?” Hercule inquired absently, seeming much more himself than normal. Regal figured being here in this peaceful villa helped him heal his mind.
Regal stopped his pacing for a second and looked at Hercule as he responded. “Because the only way we can stop this is if all five of us face it together.” Regal said firmly, as if it should have been obvious to Hercule, but it only confounded him more.
“Stop what? What is this big important reason that you’ve called us all back together?” Hercule sat up in his chair as the conversation escalated to more serious things. “Why do all five of need to be together so badly? What’s this big secret everyone has avoided telling me?” Hercule had a heat behind his tone, clearly frustrated with everyone around him. This was more like him than Regal had seen Hercule since he began his recovery. The kid loved to challenge those in charge, he hated being excluded: the tragic consequence of being younger than the others.
“You never could keep a secret, Herc.” Regal said dismissively as with a wave of his hand in Hercule’s direction he turned back to his pacing the courtyard. The sun shone through the spacing between the pillars, periodically Regal would cross in front of the rays of sunlight, casting a shadow into the room where Hercule sat lounging on a sofa made of woven branches. It was a homely bit of furnishing, just rustic enough to make Hercule feel quite relaxed with no need to be careful around a nice dainty object. He rather liked this sofa. In fact, Hercule had spent the better part of the morning and all of last night sitting here; just sitting and watching the sky, the grass, the way the wind blew through the trees causing shadows of branches and leaves to strike the pillars in the moonlight.
Hercule had named the house Serenity. He wasn’t sure if there was a societal rule regarding naming someone else’s house, but he was fairly certain there wasn’t one. However, just to be on the safe side of things, he kept the fact that he had given the house a name to himself. No reason to risk him breaking a law he didn’t know about. Besides, he liked the name Serenity, it stood for everything this shelter from the madness of life represented to him: a respite from the stormy chaos of the world and a safe haven for his mind: from his worrisome thoughts.
Regal paced some more, deep in his own thoughts, so much so that he was completely unaware that Aliyah had entered the room. Hercule heard the soft tap of her foot as she came down from the stairs to the tile floor. He felt as though he’d become one with the house: siting in the stillness all the night long had taught him the noises of the building itself. He was acclimated to the tapping of the palm leaves against the stone wall outside of the kitchen. He could distinguish between the wind whispering through the curtains hung from the end-cap pillars bordering the opening from the living space into the courtyard, and the rustling of the same wind through the dining room tablecloth that swept the floor slowly.
The instant Aliyah’s foot felt the cool tile for the first time that morning: a cold awakening to her senses from the carpeted steps where her feet made no sound; before she even had time to make the same surprised and shocked expression she made every morning about this time when she would come downstairs to prepare breakfast, Hercule had turned his head and smiled brightly to bid her good morning. Hercule saw her make her routine face as she followed the same pattern as she did every day in her home for as long as she had lived here, he at first thought it was adorable, then felt a sudden sense of embarrassment as he realized what an invasion of privacy he was committing against the woman. Hercule immediately turned his face away, ashamed. Aliyah had looked over to see his smiling greeting to the day and observed his actions with a perked brow.
“Something the matter there, Hercule Savoor?” She inquired, walking a straight, sauntering line to the man on the sofa. She was still a little over stimulated in her senses from the touch of cold to her feet and the earliness of the morning was only begin to wear off it’s dreary effect on her motor skills.
Hercule shook his head to disagree with her as she made her way toward him. He didn’t look up.
“You sure?” Aliyah pressed the question, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “It kinda seemed like there was something the matter with your eyes maybe, huh?” Hercule just kept his down, feeling like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. His cheeks burned red, which only goaded Aliyah on. “You seem a little uncomfortable. Do you need me to get you something? A blanket? Pillow? Breakfast?”
Aliyah was playing with him, Hercule knew this but he’d backed himself into a corner here. Everything she said only made him increasingly more uncomfortable, which of course made her continue saying things.
“I think I know what it is.” Aliyah placed one hand on the sofa behind Hercule, and the other hand on the sofa beside him as she leaned her body over the back of the sofa so that her head hung upside-down, staring at the side of Hercule’s face, which was by now completely red in embarrassment. “You need a hug.” She said, her hair hanging upside-down and the blood rushing to her face.
Hercule tried to stifle a laugh. This woman looked completely ridiculous and it made him instantly forget his embarrassment. Had she just offered to hug him? By now, Aliyah had been upside-down for several seconds and was just light headed enough that her hand slipped off the top of the sofa, the hand that had been preventing her from simply tumbling over the sofa in a summersault.
Aliyah began toppling face forward over the sofa, which shocked Hercule so much that he burst into laughter even as he reached out to catch her before she tumbled hard to the floor head first. He managed to grab a hold of her morning dress, but instantly realized that an effort to keep the weight of a woman from tumbling to hard drop by the dress would end poorly for all involved: the woman, the dress, and himself. He tried to release his grip and grab hold of some other part of he that would prevent her from taking an unfortunate fall, but as he discovered, there are very few acceptable placed by which to grab a woman one does not know excessively well.
This dilemma caused Hercule to simply do the next best thing, which, to him meant that if he could not move the woman out of the way of the fall, was to move the fall out of the way of the woman. He had had just barely enough grip on her dress previously to slow her inevitable impact with the hard tile floor of the room. As a reflex nearly faster than thought, Hercule pushed off the ground hard and leaned back on the sofa, causing he and it to topple backwards into the floor. Aliyah, rather than finding herself face first on the cold tile floor, was on her knees on the floor, bent over the fallen sofa. Hercule was laid back with his head on the floor but in very much a seated position, as if the sofa was the way to begin with and he was lounging as before.
There was silence for several moments in the room until the shock of what had just occurred wore off and both Aliyah and Hercule began laughing like children. It was such a ridiculous situation altogether that neither of them could help themselves from laughing at it all. Regal, who had been awakened to the world from out of his deep ponderings by the crash of the sofa as it fell was at quite a loss at the scene: two grown adults on the floor over the top of a fallen sofa laughing like children.
“Is that how they’re sitting on sofas nowadays?” Regal said sarcastically.
“Trying something new today.” Aliyah said between giggles as she tried to lift herself off of the sofa and back to her feet.
“It’s easier to clean underneath them this way.” Hercule chimed in.
“I’ll bet.” Regal’s eyes narrowed as he flashed a token smile at his brother and nodded condescendingly. He didn’t approve, he never did. At least, that was what Hercule imagined was going through his brother’s mind, when the truth was Regal was jealous. Here he was, the oldest son, the refined one, the experienced one, the leader, and Aliyah seemed to favor his insane brother better. The one thing Hercule had yet to figure out about the world in which he lived was that it may have been a man’s world, but everything was always about a woman.
Hercule spun his legs off the edge of the sofa from which they were suspended in air and scrambled to his feet. Aliyah was standing already, still attempting to reign in the laughter as Hercule lifted the sofa to an upright position and she helped position it back in place.
“Aliyah, would you like to see to breakfast?” Regal said, attempting to break the two out of their shared joviality and bring things back to seriousness where the attention could once again be back upon himself. Regal’s words iced over the atmosphere of the room, having the desired effect. Aliyah immediately looked down at herself, suddenly conscious about her appearance. She noticed a rip in the side of her morning dress where Hercule had tried to break her fall by holding her back. She stifled a laugh and skipped back up the stairs to change into something else. Hercule watched her go. His eyes never left her until she disappeared out of sight upstairs. Regal just watched, fuming. But Hercule knew now of this, and it was highly probable he wouldn’t understand it anyway. That made things worse. How was Regal supposed to tell a mentally broken man to stay away from the woman he liked?
Hercule turned, a smile still plastered on his face. He didn’t know if he’d ever been happier, and he couldn’t even say why he felt this way. Regal shook his head at the stupid expression on his brother’s face, Hercule seemed to stare right past him into nothing.
“I’ll start the breakfast.” He spoke to no one in particular, but it was an answer to Regal’s early question. Hercule made his way to the kitchen, snapping out of his stupor and whistling as he half walked, half danced to the kitchen and began preparation for the morning meal. Regal couldn’t stand being around Hercule like this: seeing him happy only made Regal feel worse.
Regal left the courtyard and made. A line for the stairs and straight to the room where, hopefully Felix and Khali were awake, or at least out of their comatose states so that they could be awakened. A distraction such as two new faces should be enough to get Aliyah and Hercule’s minds off of each other for a while. Regal paused at the door at the end of the hall before opening it, as if he wasn’t sure what to expect once he opened the door. And maybe he really wasn’t certain what to expect.
Felix he had seen only weeks before, but Khali… None of them had seen Khali for more than ten years. He’d personally lost count of the years, but he remembered well the day she left. It wasn’t like the others. Khali left because she and Regal had a falling out, in fact, she was the first to leave. And unlike the other’s she didn’t care what she was running to, only what she was running from. She blamed Regal for what happened to them-, well, really just what happened to her. All of the children were incredibly self-absorbed and arrogant. Khali was possibly more so than the rest.
After a deep breath, Regal pushed open the door, a wary hand upon the hilt of his belt knife out of instinct. This instinct had saved his life on many occasions, he hoped it would not need to here. As the door opened and the light of the room illuminated the hall way, temporarily causing Regal’s vision to lose focus and refocus in a blink of time he caught the barest glimpse of an object flying at him. It was Khali. Before he could even draw his knife she was upon him. Regal gasped.
Khali flung her arms around her older brother’s neck and kissed him on the cheek as if nothing had ever happened between them. Regal was too shocked to respond, his eyes welled with tears and he wrapped his arms around Khali in return. Felix sat inside the room sullenly, he had hoped for some kind of fight. It was always fun watching Regal get knocked down a few pegs, and it was all in fair sibling rivalry anyway. But he couldn’t be too upset about the turn of events.
“I’ve missed you so much, brother!” Khali sobbed on Regal’s shoulder as she clung tightly to him as if he might vanish at a moment’s notice.
“I missed you too.” It was all Regal could think to say as he choked on tears.
“Felix told me you were here when I woke up but I didn’t believe him. And now, here you are!” Khali released him and stepped back a pace to look at Regal, her eyes shinning. “It’s been so long, Rey.”
“I’m sorry for that. I should’ve found you sooner and apologized.” Regal said with remorse as he marveled at just how much his little sister had changed in so many years. She wasn’t a little girl anymore, she was a woman, and an oddly styled one at that.
“It wasn’t as if I made that easy for you. I didn’t want to be found. I should have come to you.” Regal just then noticed Khali’s accented. And once he noticed it he wondered how he could’ve missed it from the beginning. It was a thick, deeply intoned and rich sound that defied region, as if its sole purpose was to confuse the hearer as to the origin of the speaker. But it was not unpleasant to the ear.
“It’s no use griefing over it now, is it?” It was Regal’s best attempt at an apology he could muster.
“No. I guess it’s not.” Khali smiled, accepting the apology as it was given.
“You’ve changed a tiny bit.” Regal remarked, giving Khali another glance over and marveling at the how different she looked.
“Maybe a bit.” Khali tilted her head a little bit proudly. “Thirteen years is an awful lot of time to do some growing up in.”
“Yeah… I guess it is. And you have done that.” Regal replied. The next several minutes were spent in conversation between the two, catching up on lost time, meanwhile Hercule was downstairs struggling through remembering how to prepare eggs properly, and Felix simply sat on the bed bored. The whole family was together again… well almost all of them. One vital piece was still missing. By now she was half way across the country. And with each passing hour, the darkness within Jong Kabur grew in power and in silence. Soon it would be too powerful to stop.