Six months passed. Summer took over the dome, and the newly acquired grain fields and orchards came into their own. Ambulatio and Praetemptura took on the responsibility of outfitting an overseer for what had been Aurantiaco territory. There were the loyalists to Mercurius that were exiled from Urbs Aquarum. They were dumped out in the Stagnum ignis where they could form their own band or whatever their hearts desired with the forewarning of death if they entered the Urbs.
Defectors to Caeruleum were placed on probation while we watched to see if any other loyalists had remained behind. All were under strict order that Rubrum was not to find out that Mercurius was dead. We did not need her trying to upend us during transition.
Paul and Aurelia were welcomed by Vestitor with excitement. Sanctus had been sharing the virtues of his siblings for weeks with the tailor. They moved Vestitor’s shop out of the compound to a building off-site and converted his old shop into a pseudo residence for Paul, Aurelia and Rain. The new shop was on the other side of Argenti’s house by another block.
I joined with the three on their walks up to the shop, dropping off Sam and Abby at Argenti’s for class. In the evenings, I would walk up to collect them. I thought I was in good shape from my walking before. Making it an ingrained habit five days a week, though, had me feeling pretty good. Even Clavis had mentioned he’d notice my profile slimming up. I’d take it.
Today was different from our regular schedule. I went with Maria Mater, Cortex, and Tempestatis to see Praetemptura. We were deciding how the new food stuffs would be split up among the expanded territories fairly. Storage was proving difficult. Clavis may be a genius with fixing broken parts, but he could only do so much with undersized silos. We needed to put up and process foodstuffs before rot was liable to set in with the humid summer impending.
By acquiring Aurantiaco, we had tripled the population of Caeruleum. The stress of figuring out how to keep that many mouths fed with undersized storage was whirling through my head in the late afternoon. Cortex, Maria Mater, and I were passing through that side of town in time for Abby and Sam to be getting out from Argenti’s. “Mind if we swing by? We’re only a couple blocks over anyway,” I asked the group.
Cortex shrugged. “No harms done with a bit of extra walking.”
“I swear, we’ll get the guzzler back up and running. Just need to find a new gasket.” Tempestatis balled his fists at the dome, his shoulders sagging. He slumped forward and shoved his hands into his pocket, kicking a rock into the grass at the side of the road.
“One?” I asked Tempestatis.
“Well. No.” He kicked another rock.
“Just a gasket?”
“All right, so it needs an overhaul. There’s a leak, and something keeps discharging the battery. I don’t know. I’m going to have to do a full tear down, and that’s going to take all week.” Tempestatis rubbed at his face.
“Tried the garages in old Aurantiaco? Anyone got the parts?” I asked as we turned up the shop-lined road that led to Vestitor’s new shop.
“A couple. They said the old beater’s engine model is pretty rare on this side of town. They told me to go check the junkyard on the outskirts. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to get myself all the way out there. That’s a full two-day trip now with the guzzler’s busted.”
“You need the guzzler to speed up your ability to fix the guzzler.” Maria Mater laughed, pulling open Vestitor’s door. A bell on the handle jingled, announcing our presence.
“Lunam! You brought friends.” Aurelia set her bobbins down and came to greet us, hugging Mater. Rain crawled out from under her work table where he had been colouring pictures.
“Lune-lune!” Rain squealed, barreling toward me. I knelt down, taking his full tackle. “Lune-lune, lookey! I drew all us!” he beamed, showing me a variety of coloured stick figures.
“Oh, wow! You spent a lot of time on this. It’s marvellous,” I praised him.
“See, here’s Astrum. She’s in her yellow dress. And here’s Solis. He’s driving his guz-er. And here’s mommy and uncle Paul and uncle Jude and you.” He beamed, pleased with his handiwork.
“What about you? Where are you?” I asked.
He looked down at his paper, puzzled. He put a hand to his chin in thought. His pencil in his hand left a cerulean line on his cheek. “I’m not done yet.” He took his paper back beneath the table with the rest of his colours.
I rose, chuckling at the tot. Aurelia watched him return to work on his masterpiece. “Is it already closing time?” she glanced out the window toward the sun.
“Takes longer for the sun to set in summer. You’ve worked an extra hour. Argenti’s gonna be mad if I don’t collect Astrum and Solis. I need to talk to Vestitor, though.” I mentioned.
“We’re gonna head out. Nice seeing you, Aurelia. We’re having Persephone’s Feast day at the end of next week. You should drag your hermit of a brother out. Archimagirus’s roasts are to die for.” Mater waived, letting herself out the door.
Sanctus came out of the backrooms to find out what all the noise was about. “Lunam!” he greeted, his smile seeping all the way to my toes. I smiled back, words failing me. Cortex elbowed me in the ribs before letting himself out the door.
“We need to get to Solis and Astrum.” I cleared my throat, casting a glare at Cortex’s fleeing back. Tempestatis tried to hide a snort before following Cortex. “You’re not helping.” I hissed.
“You fail at subtle, boss.” He flicked back before closing the door.
“You needed to talk to Vestitor?” Sanctus asked as he gathered his personal effects.
“He’s redoing my robes for the feast and asked me to come by.”
“Oh, yeah. You ripped it last month when you tripped on the stairs for family ties. Vestitor wouldn’t let me touch it, said I had too many other commissions to get through. He’s in the far back. You know the way?” He pointed to the doors that would lead farther into the shop. I nodded.
“I’ll go get Astrum. Solis was going to stay overnight at Argenti’s to play with Magnus.”
“He was really happy when Magnus invited him. Hope he has fun.” I moved to the back door and waived as Sanctus let himself out.
“You working late, Aurelia?” I asked. She usually joined Sanctus on his walk to collect the Accendium.
“Rain’s here with a fever. I didn’t want to get all of Argenti’s kids sick by sending him to her.”
“Ah, right. Guess you can stay as late as you want then if you don’t have to go collect him.”
“Doesn’t interrupt my work none. Go get yourself measured. Vestitor’s been beside himself all week with that robe. Proud as he’s going to get about any piece he’s done in the last two months. Didn’t know you’d make him so happy tearing a hole all the way up that thing in the middle of the acceptance ceremony.”
“At least you’re in, regardless of a hole in my costume.”
“We’re all happy to be in, Lunam. Thank you for giving us the chance.”
“I’m glad that you all joined Caeruleum. Really.” I let myself into the back rooms and closed the door behind me. I sought out Vestitor at the end of the long building. “Vestitor!” I greeted him.
“Oh, thank Hades. I was beginning to panic. Couldn’t you have shown up like last week?” He grumbled past pins in his mouth.
“Sorry, didn’t know you needed me last week.” I approached the raised stand in front of the three mirrors in his workspace.
“I didn’t need you last week. I didn’t even have the whole thing assembled last week.”
“I thought you just said you needed me -”
“Figure of speech, Lunam.” He draped the massive black robes around me. They were a thick canvas instead of the cotton of the last robe. “Best I could find for colour. I ran out of dye, oh, you know, the day before you went and decimated the thing.” Rolling the hem to its proper height, he settled the robe squarely on my shoulders. He flipped the hood over my head and muttered to himself. I turned to see what was getting him riled. He returned with the belt and cinched me into it. “Does no good to hem the dang thing if I don’t know where this thing rests on your hips. Hades, you’ve gotten skinny in the stomach. The infernus you trying to do? Change my orders?” He grouched. I waited while he removed all the hem pins and re-orchestrated them to fit with where the belt now had the drapes falling.
“Stick out your arms. I need to make sure this thing isn’t too long,” He directed. I did as I was told, the sleeves reaching all the way to my index fingers. “For the love of Hades, what’s wrong with me? How’d I goof this up this badly? I took measurements!” he chastised himself. He marked the new point for the sleeves and took back the belt and robe.
“Sorry about this, Vestitor. I know you’ve got other orders piling up.” I rubbed at the back of my neck sheepishly.
“Hey, you brought me back a whole slew of workers. I’ve never done so well since they came and joined me. It just means my quality has improved, which is bringing in even more demand.” He folded the garment over his arm and led me back out to the front of the shop. “Go get dinner. Have an evening.” He saw me out the door with a wave.
I turned to the street and enjoyed the view of the sunset glinting through the dome panels. I pulled out my com and flipped through the settings. “Hail Maria Mater,” I called.
“Maria Mater here.”
“Hey, I’m heading back to base. Need me to swing by anywhere?” I asked, passing by Argenti’s house. Sam waved at me over the gate. I waved back and held my hand over the mike. “Have fun. Listen to Argenti!”
“Yes, sir!” Solis dashed back to his friend. I turned back to the mic in time to hear Cortex over the com.
“We’re a couple blocks over. Stopped at the park. Forgot there was one over here. Anyway, we’ll meet up with you. What say we grab food on this end of town? I heard someone opened up a diner. Don’t tell Archimagirus.”
“I’m past Argenti’s. Where do you want to meet?” I asked as I continued up the block.
“I take it you just got out of Vestitor’s?” Maria Mater came back over the com.
“Yep. He’s got my robe size proper. Should be done in time for the feast.” I turned a corner toward the main road that would lead me back to base.
A sniffle startled me from my mindless wandering down the street. I glanced around the road, trying to pinpoint it. Elderberry and soap. My skin chilled. I followed the scent to the dark side of a building. A small form was buried in the deep shadows.
“Abby?” I asked the tiny ball of firey tears. She held up her hands. I picked her up, holding her close to me, pulling a salt crystal from my pocket. “Where’s Sanctus, Abby? Why’d he leave you here?” This wasn’t like him. He was practically attached to the children. He wouldn’t abandon them in an alley.
“I don’t know. Some men came, and he fell down. Then they took him. I told them to bring him back. They ignored me. I ran after them, and one of them kicked me. I couldn’t save Sanctus. Daddy, why did they take Sanctus?” She cried harder.
Someone had taken Sanctus? Who the infernus? “Do you remember what they looked like, Abby? Anything? Their clothing, their hair, what they smelled like?”
She shook her head slowly as more tears tracked down her grimy cheeks. She shoved a thumb in her mouth and set her head on my shoulder as I looked around for my team. Seeing no one coming my way, I backtracked through the street, catching wafts of sage and rosemary intermingled with concrete and sand. Pine and petrol punched into my line of thought, and I looked up to see Tempestatis and Cortex making their way to me, Maria Mater following behind them at a clip.
Horror splashed across Cortex’s face. Tempestatis took off at a run my way. “Boss!” he screamed. I turned to see what Cortex was looking at in time to catch a solid punch to the jaw. I went down like a ton of bricks. Abby fell with me, tumbling away into the gutter. I shook my head, trying to shake out the stars flashing in my eyes. I reached for Tempestatis who was getting manhandled by a mountain in a jean jacket. On the back was a massive red diamond patch. Searing heat bit into my gut and stole my breath. I looked down in confusion. A knife handle protruded from my stomach, a long gash turning my shirt a ghastly shade of red.
A green plasma ball erupted over my head. I cringed back at the sparks that split from the ball. It landed square to the man crouching over me, sending him flying. The man holding onto Tempestatis pushed him before he caught one of Mater’s balls to the face. She strode up to stand guard over me, Abby in her arms. The world dropped out from under me. Black and purple and red swirled together as the emptiness cradled me into a cold floating oblivion.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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