Rhea, Year 813 of Avia, Day 278; Autumn
Icarum heard leaves rustle north of his position. He listened intently to footsteps growing quieter and quieter as his target ran farther and farther away.
Silence. Icarum’s attention turned towards the familiar buzz of hummingbirds and chirps of jays.
A bird, probably a raven, flapped its wings violently in the northeast direction before flying into the air.
Icarum noticed a slight decrease in animal noises from the east. The buzzes and chirps continued in every other direction.
Icarum smiled. He opened his eyes and turned around.
“Ready or not, here I come!”
He sprinted as fast as he could to his left, jumping over tree trunks and blueberry bushes with ease. As he ran, squirrels and rabbits darted out of his path until he reached a quiet area surrounded by overgrown vines and ferns.
Icarum took a deep breath, stomped three times on the floor, and screamed at the top of his lungs. “HELLOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Butterflies flew out every fern except for one, creating a sea of colors as striking as a sunset on a summer day. Once the butterflies settled down, Icarum crept towards the sole butterfly-free fern, and lunged. But before he could make contact with his hands, a leg flew out of the fern and kneed him in the face.
Icarum fell to the floor and looked up at his target. He stuck out his tongue and laughed.
“Gotcha! Sixteen wins to me, zero to Karine! Another humiliating defeat by-”
“I’ll kick you again.”
“You’re such a sore loser.”
Karine was a ten-year-old girl quite tall for her age, with dark brown hair and pigtails. Unlike the other girls in the tribe who stayed at home, Karine preferred to run around and play in the forest. She was also the only person who could handle Icarum’s mischievous and somewhat arrogant personality, though their interactions would often end with a punch or a kick.
Karine shook some leaves off her clothes and started walking in the opposite direction of Icarum. Icarum jumped in front of her path.
“Are you really gonna ditch me like this? Come on, let’s play some more!”
Karine kept on walking. “Go play with your brother or something. I’m done for today.”
“He’s been gone for a couple of days. Karine, I have nobody else to play with. Come on!”
“It’s not my fault you don’t have any other friends. Where’d your brother go anyway?”
Icarum began prancing around Karine, darting from side to side to avoid any potential punches that might come his way. He put a finger on his lip.
“It’s a secret,” he whispered.
Karine rolled her eyes, walked towards a nearby tree stump, and took a seat.
“I don’t wanna play hide-and-seek anymore, so let’s just talk.”
“But that’s booriin-”
“Fine! Fine. What do you even wanna talk about?”
Karine had a serious expression on her face. “You see those mountains?” She pointed to the east, where the alps on the horizon towered over the trees in the forest. The peaks of the mountains were shrouded in fog, making it difficult to determine exactly how tall or vast the mountains were.
Icarum nodded. “Where the Rhean rebels live, right? Of course I know.”
Karine laughed. “I don’t understand how you can be so chill about it. If your father or some Sydurnian soldier heard, it’d be over for you.”
“Hey, I’m careful when I need to be. Besides, you’re someone I know I can trust.”
Karine's face turned bright red, but Icarum’s gaze remained fixed on the mountains. She breathed a silent sigh of relief.
“Anyways, ever since Mom was killed by the Sydurnians, Dad’s always been talking about going to the mountains someday. But you know, with his condition-”
“Sclerosis. I read it in a book.”
Karine rolled her eyes. “Right, that. It makes it hard for him to travel. Anyways, I guess what I’m trying to ask is, have you ever thought of going?”
For the first time in ages, Icarum thought long and hard before speaking. “Even if I did go, I don’t think old man Rhozo would let me stay.”
“Rhozo? The old chieftain? Why not?”
“When Rhozo escaped to the mountains, he was originally going to bring the entire tribe. But Father resisted, and said we should simply make peace with the Sydurnians instead. Rhozo thought his son was a coward, so he disowned him.”
Karine saw the solemn look on Icarum’s face and regretted asking. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry-”
“Don’t worry about it! I've never even met the old man, and his feud is with my father, not me.” Icarum paused to reflect on his words. “But even if I did know him, I wouldn’t want to leave dad, mom, or Igsum.”
Icarum woke up to a chill breeze blowing against his face. It was late afternoon, and he had fallen asleep on the log, his back aching from a piece of bark that jutted against it. Karine was sleeping on the ground beside him, with a little drool coming out the side of her mouth.
In an instant, Icarum knew what he had to do. He took a marker out of his pocket and drew an angry expression on her face. This was his sweet, sweet revenge for getting kicked and punched so many times.
After his masterpiece was completed, Icarum poked her with a stick. When Karine didn’t wake up, he shook her a couple of times, to no avail. Karine was a heavy sleeper, and Icarum soon decided to just let her nap for a little longer. He gathered all the fallen leaves nearby and placed them underneath Karine’s head as a cushion.
Another breeze soon followed, and Karine shivered in her sleep. Icarum let out a big groan, not wanting to do any more for his annoying friend. Reluctantly, he took off his vest and placed it on top of Karine, regretting it instantly when he realized how cold he was without it.
Intending to come back after he grabbed another vest, Icarum ran home, filling his lungs with cold air.
As he was about to leave the forest, a strong scent of smoke filled the air. As he drew closer to his house, he could see the red-orange color of fire in between the trees that blocked his view.
Everything will be fine.
Icarum sprinted forward. He couldn’t fathom the idea that his mother and father would accidentally start a fire; they were both extremely careful people, and their house wasn’t flammable, either. It was made of stone and concrete, not wood.
Everything will be fine.
Icarum began coughing. Through the flames, he could make out the figure of two bodies. Icarum's heart sank. Although he couldn’t see their faces, he immediately knew who they were. But he refused to believe it. His parents were not stupid enough to stay in a burning house.
Everything will be fine. Icarum tried to keep his heartbeat steady by deceiving himself, but his vision grew blurry and everything he saw began to spin and wobble.
Before he succumbed to his increasing dizziness, Icarum dove into the fire, praying that by some miracle, one of the bodies would still have a pulse.
He placed his hand on the two bodies’ wrists, but felt nothing. His father’s ring sat on the finger of one of the bodies, and his mother’s bracelet was worn on the arm of the other. Icarum froze. In the midst of a collapsing home and a raging fire, he cried out in anguish.
Through the fire, he caught a glimpse of a Sydurnian soldier in a white suit making his way to a mini-airship. A flame danced on the palm of his hand. Icarum reached out his hand and called out to the soldier, but the deafening sound of crackling flames drowned out his voice.
As the smoke finally filled his lungs, Icarum fell unconscious next to the charred bodies of his parents.