For a moment he'd kissed the sky. Flown high above the forest and seen the edge of the world. He'd felt the clouds whip past him and looked at the back of eagles. He had been a god pushing the limits of what he was capable with only one machine, that he'd created, keeping him aloft.
But now here he was, picking twigs and leaves off of his jacket and counting his cuts. His Dragonfly, a complex flying machine he'd made himself, was in ruins with cogs and gears scattered amongst the foliage. The wings that had been carefully integrated and articulated were shattered in the trees, and the main body of the machine lay battered at his feet.
He didn't feel injured. A sharp pain in his side, but no cuts. Nothing broken. He slowly stretched and rotated his body just to make sure it was all attached and breathed a sigh of relief. He was in one piece but next time he had to add something to soften his crashes. To make matters worse, he was now far away from home with little time left before dark fell. He had to get back before dinner. If the wolves didn't kill him, his mother would.
He knelt down and wrapped his arms around the large metal frame of the dragonfly. It smelled of copper and smoke. The gears inside were still smoking as they wheezed and crackled. Even though it was light enough to carry, the impact had crashed it into the ground too hard. With his fingers wrapped around its solid frame he grunted and tugged, but the machine wouldn't budge. He'd have to dig it out, which was a luxury he couldn't afford. He wasn't happy about it, but he'd have to leave the machine out here in the wilderness until the morning.
Cursing at himself for his faulty building skills, he grabbed some large lush green ferns and used them to cover up as much as possible. He didn't like the idea of leaving it outside overnight, but if he was going to get back before dinner he had no choice. Once he was sure it was mostly covered he took a step back. It was a pathetic covering, but at least no wolves would be dragging any pieces off into the forest. At least that's what he hoped.
The farm wasn't far, but the trek through the forest was difficult at the best of times. Now, with the sun lowering he was rapidly losing light. Adding to that, the trees were so big it made navigating difficult with the thick shadows they cast. The lush undergrowth, while beautiful was so thick it was annoyingly thick and tough to get through. Despite the obstacles, he was making good time. Then something caught his eye.
At first he thought it was a piece of his craft. But he'd already made it a good deal from the crash site. Unsure of what caused him to pause and take note of it, he felt compelled to investigate. He got closer and looked around the woods, but there didn't seem to be anyone nearby. He took a few cautious steps forward and picked it up.
The locket was gold and hanging on a small cord. It was shaped like a heart with a giant red crest emblazoned on the side. He tried to open it, but it remained locked. He turned it back and forth in his hands and marvelled at it. It was smooth as if it had just been brought to a brilliant polish. It was light, yet somehow felt like it was getting heavier each minute. The more he examined it, he began to feel strange. When he gripped it in his hands he realized that it was colder than he'd expected and didn't feel like it was warming up.
He marvelled at the item in his hands and wondered where on earth it had come from. Had he really passed it countless times on his way here? There was no way his sharp eyes would have missed this item. It must have had tremendous value. Its beauty was almost hypnotic and the feel of gold against his skin...
Suddenly there was a rustle in the forest behind him. He paused for a moment and pocketed the locket. With great force he swung his arms up and gripped onto the thick branches of the nearest tree. Swinging himself up, he gripped close to the bark and waited expecting a wolf or drakon to emerge from the shadows. Surprisingly, it wasn't a beast that emerged but a man. He looked disoriented and he was wearing strange clothes that he'd never seen before. The man was taller and older than him, looking to be mid thirties with a strange haircut he'd never seen before. He wore a cape and bright colours all over himself and was stumbling like he'd been drinking all day. His clothes were torn and he had scrapes and cuts all over him. He looked confused and disoriented and fumbled around the forest desperately looking around the path. Every now and then he would bend down and scratch at the ground as if he was looking for something. He didn't have to guess what the man was looking for, and felt the small locket sitting in his pocket like lead. For a moment, he debated dropping the item and running but he didn't want to be seen, especially not when he knew nothing about this strange man below him.
The man stumbled away, quickly staggering out of sight and rambling about the branches. After a few minutes, once he was sure he was safe, he climbed down out of the tree and peered through the forest. The man seemed to be gone and he breathed a sigh of relief. Who was that man and what was he doing all the way out here? They were miles from anything of interest. Using what little light there was left, he took out the locket and tried to examine it. Though it was dark he knew that what he found was special. He had never seen anything like this before, not even from his grandmother's jewel case that she kept in the closet.
Perhaps he could find the answers at home, but if he didn't hurry, there was a chance he'd never make it back. With a grunt he put the locket back, and ran as fast as he could towards home. With only minutes left before the world went black, his family would be asking questions soon.
He finally got to his home right as the darkness settled on the mountain. The sky was still on fire with bright reds and pinks smeared across it, but the ground was hardly visible. The chilly night wind began to flow through the field which brought the smell of harvest with it. He knew he looked like a mess, but with any luck, the family wouldn't be asking too many questions.
Without knocking he ran inside and ran directly into his grandmother, almost knocking her off her sturdy calves. She didn't look angry, but he suddenly felt very small in comparison.
“Leoson, where have you been?” Her voice was annoyed, but not as angry as he'd expected. She gestured to the kitchen and ushered him in before he had a chance to protest. The room smelled of bread and potatoes and filled the room with a rich aroma that made his stomach twist in hunger. He hadn't even realized he was hungry until he smelled the roasts. She slapped her hand against the counter and he jumped up onto them as was tradition. The kitchen was cozy and there was only a little clearance between the counter and the small cubbies that lined the top of the space.
“Where'd you get that?” She asked. Leoson froze and looked at her eyes trying to not look terrified. How had she known about the locket, he'd just got in?
"Uh-" He stammered before realizing that she was pointing to his shoulder. Leoson hadn't noticed before but there was a large gash that had cut straight through his protective leather jacket. Leoson looked to his grandmother and shrugged. He hadn't felt the wound until now.
“From the woods I guess.” She looked at him with a frown and shook her head.
"Out galavanting around the forest with a wound on your shoulder? The wolves could smell blood from miles around and you just run around like it's nothing? Not the smartest move Leoson." She said shaking her head. She lifted up the lid on her pot and swirled the air around it with a long wooden spoon. The scent was intoxicating and Leoson hardly noticed when she gently rapped him against the back of the head. "Think better next time boyo." She smirked as she pointed to the bathroom. "Get washed up quick now."
Leoson slid off the counter and quickly shuffled into the bathroom as quick as he could, feeling the locket smack against his leg with every step.
With a click he locked the bathroom door and turned to the battered slab of metal that served as their mirror. He took his tattered clothes off and finally got a good look at the damage. His ribs were a solid patch of purple and green and he had a couple of nicks and scratches on his shoulders. His legs were dark where the dragonfly had slammed into his calves but otherwise appeared unharmed. He was lucky to be intact, and couldn't help but feel proud of his wounds. He had just survived his first crash. He was one step closer to being a skypirate. Despite his current situation he looked at himself, his brown hair messy and unkempt, his silver eyes twinkling as the startings of bruises were emerging around his narrow face and smiled.
The bathroom was always cold, and with little light left, the room felt like a freezer. The water felt like ice as he scrubbed himself with his rag. The bucket he hung had obviously been waiting out for several hours. Perhaps it was his mother's way of punishing him for being so overdue. Despite his discomfort he scrubbed and washed the dirt off of his hair and body. Once he was clean, and sufficiently frozen, he grabbed a small dollop of his great-grandmother's balm and applied it to his shoulder wound and a couple of the smaller wounds on his hands and arm. The balm stung, but it would prevent infection and help to heal the wounds. At least this was what she claimed. Judging by how little she had left, it seemed like he hadn't been the only one getting into scrapes. Perhaps his father had set something on fire again lately. Finally, he washed his face and combed his hair back to allow the light dusting of chin hair to be proudly displayed.
There was a knock on the door, and Leoson walked over to grab the fresh clothes that he knew would be on the other side. He wasn't quite tall enough to reach over the door, but soon he hoped to be able to. His grandmother and him had done this many times before. She was excellent at covering for him, and never asked too many questions. Leoson pulled in the clothes which still felt warm from the iron and did them up as quickly as he could. The shirt was white, and the tweed pants were held up by a pair of suspenders. He took the hangers and hung up his tattered and torn clothes which looked even worse when hung up. He grimaced and was about to leave them, when the locket fell out, landing with a thud on the hard stone ground.
He reached down to pick it up, and quickly examined it to make sure it was still working. Surprisingly there didn't seem to be any damage to the piece. It appeared to be exactly the same without a dent or a scratch from the impact. However, as Leoson was looking at it, there was a click and the small pendant opened. A strange light refracted over the room revealing a small glittering ruby with a phrase imprinted on the other side.
“Usque ad finem tempus...” Leoson didn't recognize the words, but he somehow felt that they were important. Examining the locket he had a realization. A part of him knew that keeping this item would be troublesome, but there was something in him that wouldn't let go. He should tell his parents about it, or his grandmother, but he didn't want to. He wanted to keep it for himself.
He brought the item over to the mirror and slipped the small metal chain over his neck. The pendant hung perfectly around his shoulders and even in the fading light, it seemed to shine. A wave of pride overwhelmed him when there was a knock at the door. Startled, Leoson hid the pendant in his shirt and watched for a second just to make sure it was out of sight.
“Coming!” He said. He stooped closely to the mirror and scrubbed off a last piece of dirt from his cheek before re emerging into the warm hallway and making his way down to the living room.
Their house wasn't overly large, but it was comfortable for the amount of people who lived in it. To his knowledge the family had lived in it for generations. Under this roof contained four generations. There was him and his brother, Zeph, his mother and father, his grandmother and grandfather and his great-grandmother.
The first one he ran into was his grandmother. She was carrying a tray of chopped vegetables to the table and looked him over once just to make sure he was presentable.
“Fix your hair boy. Looking like a runaway fig.” She said. Leoson licked his palm and tried to press down the stray hairs to the best of his ability but his cowlicks were stubborn. With his free hand he snatched a root off the tray and hid it behind his back as he made his way to the kitchen.
He rounded the corner to see his mother as she finished setting the table. The thick aroma of food and herbs filled the air. Gram sat in her chair knitting what appeared to be another sweater as Zeph played with a doll in the corner.
“About time you got home.” His mother said. “Where on earth have you been all day?”
“Out.” He said.
“Well get in here and help to set the table already.”
“Can't I grab dad first?” He asked.
“No, he's helping your uncle dock.”
“Uncle Otto is here?” The hint of excitement in his voice gave him away. He hadn't even checked the farmhouse on his way in. His uncle always flew in the most beautiful Skyship Leoson had ever seen.
“Don't you even think about heading out there until the table is set. We need eight places. Now be quick about it.” Leoson rolled his eyes and his mother quickly left the room to join his grandmother in the kitchen. With a sigh he shuffled to the table and Gram looked up from her sweater making to give him a smile.
“Wont take a moment.” Gram said as she motioned him over with her long finger. He shot Gram a nice smile. She was old and wrinkled with long white hair that she always did up in a knot. She smelled of cinnamon and wisdom, and her silver eyes were the biggest reminder that they were related. Those eyes ran in the family from her, to his grandfather, to his mother to him. They were the bond that tied the family together. He reached across her to pick up her fork when she gripped his hand and presented her cheek. Leoson rolled his eyes but kissed her cheek and she let go, allowing him to get back to work.
“Shamed to kiss your Gram? Are you now?”
“Course not Gram but I gotta finish setting the table.”
"She did the hard work already." She said with a wrinkled smile. “Nine years in and you're not ready to get rid of your Gram yet.”
"No ma'am." Leoson said with a smile as he took the root vegetable and slid it to Zeph who stuck it in his mouth. He rarely spoke, but he did love it when he was given something to play with. Especially if it was edible.
“Close the window. It's getting chilly.” She didn’t look up from her knitting. Leoson walked over to the window and closed it, but stole a quick glance out the window. Though it was dark he could clearly see the ship resting on top of the makeshift platform on top of the barn. They were hardly an airfield, but it was enough to hold one small airship at a time. He couldn't see much, but he could see the vague outlines of his father and uncle argue over something. He couldn't make out what it was, but marvelled at the ship for a moment before getting back to Gram.
"You still gots table to set boyo." Gram said pointing her thin finger to the table. He sighed. He wanted to know what it was like to be on that ship. He was almost a man. Maybe his uncle would be taking him with him this time. It wasn't like he hadn't asked. He bubbled with excitement as he couldn't wait to tell his uncle of his journey on his dragonfly today. Of course that meant glossing over some details regarding the crash, but it was still progress worth sharing.
Ten minutes later, with the table set and his anticipation threatening to boil over the front doors flew open and his father and uncle stepped in.
"Ma! I'm home!" Otto said. A tall man, not quite as tall as his father but with a more weathered face and the silver eyes that he shared with the family. His hair was pulled back by a pair of weathered goggles that looked worse every time Leoson saw them. In many ways Otto and his father could be mistaken for brothers. Both were slender with angular faces and dark hair. Otto threw his arms around grandmother and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Good to have you back son." She said as she released herself from the hug and motioned to the kitchen. "Now kick your pack and boots off before you get mud in here."
"I love you too Ma." he spoke with a slight affectation now. His mother told him it was to help him fit in better in the city, but Leoson knew better. His uncle was a pirate and he wanted to know everything this time.
"Hello dear," his father said as he pulled his mother in for a kiss.
"Happy to see you didn't set anything on fire today, Marcus. What was it you were working on today?" she asked him. Her long brown hair was up today showing off her strong yet determined face that was almost always painted in a smirk. She had made a point to inherit grandmother's resolve and sarcasm. A trait she shared with Otto as well.
"I'm this close to something amazing Azabeth. You'll see." he said with a smile. She allowed him to kiss her before giving a half hug to her brother.
"Good to see you sis." he said with a toothy smile.
"Don't think I've forgotten about last month." She said with a frown.
"Come now, ya can't still be mad about tha’."
"Just get to that table." she said with a stern yet amused look. Otto smiled and weaved his way through the kitchen. He paused by Leoson and rubbed his head. "Ya're growing like a weed boyo."
"Hey!" Leoson exclaimed as he tried to dodge his uncle’s affection. He had finally got his cowlick down and within seconds his efforts had been for nothing. He wanted to say more but by the time he had recomposed himself, he was already in the living room. Leoson frowned. He had forgotten how quick his uncle could be.
Without stopping Otto made his way down the hall to his father, Leoson's Papi. Leoson followed but couldn't hear what they were saying. They exchanged a few words before Otto offered him a small gift. Papi didn't say anything but took it with a nod before making his way to the kitchen. Papi was the only one who could stop Otto in his tracks.
"So what sort of trouble did you get into?" Papi asked Otto as he poured himself a small glass of amber liquid. It was so strong, Leoson could smell the odour from the hallway. He wanted to walk in, but hovered just out of their eye lines.
"None pa. Promise." Otto said, causing Papi to raise his eyebrow.
"Not sure I believe you with that nick on your face." Papi said. "You can't just find things like this. Where'd you get it?"
"It doesn't matter." Otto said.
"It does when you put the entire family at risk." Papi grimace as he took a sip of his whiskey. Otto shook his head.
"It's worth looking for. No one will find us."
"It's not worth our lives boyo. Learn to be careful before you kill us all." He said. Leoson pressed against the door when suddenly a rap on his shoulder made him leap out of his skin. He could usually hear when someone snuck up on him, but here stood his father, Marcus, shaking his head.
"You're getting sloppy." Marcus said. "I never used to be able to sneak up on you."
"You still can't." He bluffed. "What?" His father reached past him and closed the door as the voices behind it became muffled in their yelling. Otto and his Papi certainly had a way of upsetting each other in record time and Leoson sighed. He'd have to wait to talk to Otto after all.
"You best not listen to private conversations." He said with a frown. "Come now boyo. You best go clean that off your face before dinner."
Leoson froze. His father was smart but he'd never been observant before. His hands flung themselves to his face searching for a wound or scar that he'd somehow missed. When his father began to smile he realized he'd been had.
"There's nothing on my face is there?" his father smiled and nodded and Leoson felt foolish.
"Come along now, it's time for dinner."