Barclay ran with everything he had, his heart pounding in his ears. He couldn’t tell if it was his own pulse and footfalls, or if they were gaining on them. His lungs and arms felt white hot. He wished Jake would stop crying. Barclay had told him to be as quiet as possible, but that was when they were walking and there weren’t guards on their tail. Dani was complacent in Barclays arms, silent, and clinging on for dear life.
He didn’t plan on scooping up two children on his way to the arch. They just fell into his arms and he couldn’t let them go. The crystal was cracked, there were people who wanted to cut the population off from it, there were people who advocated for a limit on time with the crystal, there were people who wanted to sanction who could and could not touch the crystal. The poor and children orphaned by the crack were not on that sanctioned list.
The crack triggered a major eruption, catastrophic events came rolling out of a shock wave that was felt around the entire world. Earthquakes began to tear up the landscape, leaving canyons where valleys once stood. The tides were shaken, like one huge whirlpool opened up in the center of the ocean and pulled the water away, throwing it back just as hard. The air was harder to breathe, thinner for days. Plants withered and died. So did Sylphs who were already weak, already starving or old.
Barclay saw the seven strangers who ruined Sylvain and caused a war. The day was so bright and clear and it felt like the perfect day. He decided he was going to hold onto that moment forever. That moment right before one of the strangers placed their hand on the crystal and it split from the bottom up. Barclay wanted to remember his world with fondness, as the beautiful place he knew.
Even if he was running from his home, he will always be a Sylph. And so will these children. He promised himself he would tell them about their rich history, about each of their harritages, as much as he knew of them, and why they left.
The archway was glowing in the distance. The moon was hitting it just right, and the light was rebounding out of the arch, beckoning him in. He had learned the location from an older woman who had survived the crack. She said she didn’t know where in the other world it went to anymore, but she did know the guards wouldn’t follow. She even gave him some bread for his journey. Dani and Jake shared the bread. They were far hungrier than him.
Barclay felt the spears at his heels and shouts in his ears. They were gaining on him, screaming at him, warning him not to go through the arches. That would be it for them, they would no longer be allowed back. They were outlaws, refugees, creatures without a country. The tone in their voice almost sounded like they cared. But even so, their country was going to leave them behind. Their country had left them behind. This was their option. This was their new opportunity. This was their chance for life.
And Barclay took it.
He dove for the archway, tucking and rolling through to the other side. Barclay felt a layer of himself peel away as he crossed. He wasn’t sure if it was something on his skin or if it was a piece of his soul because it felt like both. He sat for a moment, breathing in the different air and watching the different sky. It started to snow, the little flakes catching in his and Jakes fur, and in Dani’s hair. She shivered closer to him and Jake finally stopped crying. His heart was still beating and his legs were still burning but he was able to sit in the cold and the peace and the silence because this realm didn’t feel right or like home. It felt like freedom.
There was a rumbling and a crunching of snow in front of them. Barclay froze, terrified, and too tired to move. He gripped the kids closer, he was ready to defend them as best as he could.
The car slowed and the headlights pierced their eyes. The door opened and a figure came out. They stood for a moment and then walked up to them, slowly, crouching down to their level. Her eyes had wrinkles around them and were kind. Her hair caught the snowflakes and turned it even greyer.
“You kids are gonna need a place to stay, aren’t ya?”
Mama gave them their own rooms to sleep in, Dani and Jake slept with Barclay for the first week. She had torn off a piece of Barclay’s shirt and tied it around each of their wrists as she gave them clean clothes to wear. Barclay’s stature stayed, and so did his head and face full of thick brown hair, but the rest disappeared right before his eyes. Mama had told him he was still hairy, by human standards but he felt naked. Jake was even more bare, due to his age. His white fur gave way to pale skin, and the blue that normally framed his face and palms receded to just his eyes. Jake even checked his toes, and they too were as pale as the rest. Dani wouldn’t stop touching her teeth, poking them in the mirror. They were flat and straight and she couldn’t get used to the feeling. She didn’t even notice how her hair laid flat or how her eyes didn’t glow orange.
“I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t found us…” Barclay confessed one dark night in the lodge’s lobby. They were having tea and Mama was looking into the fire.
Mama shrugged and turned her soft gaze to him. “You would have found me. You would have found the hot springs, starving for its energy, and someone would have let me know there were three more mouths to feed. We’ve always been destined to meet, Barclay.”
Barclay’s ears perked up. “You think this is all predestined? The war? Us leaving? The kids being orphaned? It’s all part of someone’s plan?” Barclay didn’t know if that was better or worse. The thought that this tragedy was always meant to happen and no one could stop it was almost comforting. Then again, a predestined plan made him feel helpless and small like he was more of a pawn than a person.
“Listen, kid,” Mama sat forward and the shadow from the fire cast a dark blanket over her face, all he could see was the flames in her eyes. “All I know is that I think there's something out there pulling the strings. Or at least I hope. I don’t know what’d I’d do if I thought we were all alone down here, wandering around without a clue.” She sat back and the glow was soft on her features again. “My pa was a God-fearing man and raised me to be a God-fearing woman. My definition of god might have changed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a deep respect for whatever's going on behind the scenes.”
They all might have been close, and like a family, but no one else took responsibility for the kids. Barclay was a young man and wasn’t expecting to be a father at his age. But he found himself getting jake dressed for school and making Dani lunch for her lunch box as she headed out. He found himself parenting them when they would stay up too late talking to the other residents. He found himself fighting with Dani as she grew older and angrier. He’d have to tie her scrap of fabric onto her before she’d go to school because she “forgot” and was about to walk out of the door with her eyes glowing bright orange and her mouth tightly clamped over her fangs.
“I don’t want to hide what I look like!” She screamed, one difficult morning when she was fifteen. “I want to look like me ! I want to be me!” she tore off the fabric and shredded it with her claws.
“Dani you can’t go out looking like that! You’ll get caught! You’ll be questioned, tortured !” Barclay pleaded.
“And whose fault is that!?”
“What?” The wind was knocked out of him. He wasn’t quite sure what she was accusing him of.
Dani’s face turned red as she sucked in a deep breath. “ You brought me here! You’re the one who's making me live this secret life! It’s your fault I’m here and living like this! I wouldn’t be scared every day of getting found out if you had just left me where I was! With my family!”
Barclay’s voice caught in his throat. It was true he never asked if she wanted to go with him. But he had seen what happened to her family. He knew what would have become of her in Sylvain. He knew she’d suffer, she’d be a ward of the state. She would have stayed lost in the woods where her family layed, she would have found them. Barclay felt his eyes fill and couldn’t croak out a response. He had saved her life and tried to take care of her and he still wasn’t family to her. He had still not done enough.
Dani waited for a response, drinking in his silence and the tears in his eyes. It’s about time he felt bad for what he did , she thought. And then she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at Mama who had a stern face on, something serious and maybe a little angry.
“You’ll take the day off today, I’d like to talk to you.”
A cold fear ran down Dani’s back. Mama’s voice was gentle and kind as it always was. But a whole day just to talk.
“Come on, now.” Mama guided her by the shoulder past Barclay and into her office. Dani looked back at him and he was crying into his hands, another resident was patting him on the back to console him.
Mama sat Dani down in her office. They were sitting across from each other and Dani knew she was in trouble.
“Do you remember what happened in Sylvain, Dani?”
“Of course I do!” Dani snapped. She had never snapped at Mama before, they were both surprised.
“Go on, tell me about it.” Dani was quiet. She remembered flashes of it, snippets of things that happened to her and her alone.
“Our house fell down… and we lived in the woods for a while….” She said finally.
Dani shook her head.
“What was the political climate like? Why did you have to live in the woods? How far from town were you?”
Dani shook her head even harder.
Mama reached into one of her drawers and rummaged around for something. Then, she pulled out a little purple box. “I wanted to wait till your birthday but… I think this is a better time.” She nodded for Dani to take it. Dani unwrapped it and inside was beaded bracelet with stones and other earthy trinkets.
“It’s Sylvan. Try it on.”
Dani slipped it onto her wrist and she felt the surge of static that normally fills her dissipated. She felt calmer, more at ease. She felt more human. Dani inspected it again. It was far more her style than a woven piece of Barclay’s old shirt.
“Let me tell you about the night you came to me,” Mama said. Dani listened. Dani listened to everything Mama said. Mama explained Barclay’s journey and what he was facing. She described the event that caused Dani’s childhood home to collapse. Mama explained where Jake was found. Mama told Dani about her parents and siblings. Mama held Dani as she cried.
Barclay had cried himself out in the lobby and was staring at the TV above the fireplace. No one dared to change the channel from his beloved Chopped. He was ready to go full big foot on anyone who came too close to the remote.
Suddenly, he felt a hug enclose him from behind. As he tried to turn in it, he saw Dani’s dirty blonde hair covering her face. Her claws were retracted and she had a new bracelet on.
“Thank you, Barclay. Thank you so much.”
Barclay smiled and placed a hand on her head, ruffling up her hair. “Anytime shortcake. Anytime.”
Jake had always been the more mild-mannered of the two, but as he got older and the teenager in him started to come out, Dani would look at him with a familiar stern look. “Barclays done a lot for us. Whatever your feeling, don’t take it out on him. He doesn’t deserve that.”
Jake pouted and muttered a small “Fine.” under his breath. He’d take it out on Dani before finding snowboarding to be an excellent outlet if you live in a ski lodge.
Dani happily took the anger Jake had to throw around. She didn’t want to put that on Barclay again. Even if he did assure her he understood that she was just a teenager and teenagers are just like that. She still felt awful and wanted to alleviate some of the damage she caused. She even took it upon herself to have the talk with Jake. She was gentle when she told him about their past and their home. She made sure Jake truly understood the sacrifices made for them.
“We should make him something nice… To thank him…”
Dani wrapped her arm around him. “You know what, that sounds like a great idea, little bro.”
They grinned at each other and broke off. Dani went to the kitchen to talk to Barclay, who was preparing dinner, making sure he stayed exactly where he was. All the while, Jake let himself into Barclay’s room and started digging through his drawers.
“So what’s for dinner tonight?” Dani asked, placing her phone on the counter, face up and then picking up a bowl of potato salad and giving it a stir.
Barclay looked her up and down. “Uh, I was just thinking of having a cookout. It’s a nice summer night, might as well right?”
“Oh yeah!” Dani said, not really looking up from her phone. “It’s a great night for some hot dogs and meat burgers! Wait, no one says that, damnit.”
“Are… Is everything okay, Dani?” Barclay, the worry spiking his voice.
The phone lit up and Dani snatched it up, nearly dropping the potato salad. “Yeah, everything fine. Thanks, Barclay!” She ran out of the kitchen and up to Jake’s room, leaving Barclay confused and only a little worried.
She burst into the room and saw Jake on the ground with scissors. “Where did you find it?!”
“He had it hanging up in his closet.”
Later that night, Barclay was on the grill, cooking up as many hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers as he could on one surface and looking out to the other residents. They were talking and laughing and it warmed Barclay’s heart. Over the past years, Amnesty Lodge had become a home for him and these people had become his family. He felt like he has melted into this world and community so perfectly, this world had started to feel right. He never thought anything would feel right again.
“Hey, Barclay!” Dani and Jake said behind him. He turned to them and they were shoulder to shoulder, grinning at him.
“What’s up? Did you guys want a veggie burger?”
They shook their heads. “We have something for you!”
Barclay raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
They broke apart and held out a braided bracelet. He took it from them and inspected it. It was the forest green of his shirt, the royal purple of Dani’s old jacket, and the white of Jake’s tiny socks. It was a bracelet made of their Sylvan fabric that they all crossed over in.
“I hope you don’t mind we took some more of your shirt…,” Jake said.
“We just thought we should do something nice for you and you don’t really have a Sylvan thing? You just have a piece of cloth? So we made you a bracelet… Still just as sentimental….” Dani said she had shrunk in herself a little, embarrassed for the emotions she was showing.
“ Kids ,” Barclay whispered tears in his eyes. He slipped on the bracelet and then consumed them into a hug. Dani buried her face in his neck and Jake clung onto him. “ Thank you! ” He picked them up and swung them around. He squeezed them in joy as he cried harder.
The amnesty lodge felt right and it was the home of his family.