The house was pitch black and silent; Rosakai led Zephren blindly up the basement stairs and through a hallway. He could barely make out the shapes of doorways as they passed by empty rooms. The windows were expertly boarded, and though Zephren could see faint cracks between the planks of wood, it was deep night outside; the only variation was a rich blue from the otherwise blackness.
Zeph leaned on the siren, pulling on his arm as he limped awkwardly forward. The pressure made his muscles feel tenderly glued together. “Where’s Blade?” Zeph whispered, constantly checking behind his shoulder at the lack of footsteps behind him.
Rosakai’s breath sounded loud in the stillness. “He’s putting out the fire in the basement. If you hear anything, don’t be alarmed; there are others here as well. You’ll meet them in the morning.” Though his words were meant to be comforting, his deep voice brought little reassurance.
As they neared the end of the hall, Zeph stumbled over objects, pulling on Rosakai’s arm as he felt his ankle roll. Hands caught him, Zephren yelping as the wound in his side pulsed.
Rosakai let go of him as he steadied, the siren’s breath ragged as he whispered, “Are you alright?”
Zephren couldn’t see his face, merely the faint outline of his figure. Still, he could feel the man staring down at him. Zephren nodded, finding himself leaning against the wall with great force to stand upright. “There’s something on the floor. I just tripped.”
Rosakai hunch down as he moved the objects. “Looks like someone didn’t put their shoes away… I’m sorry if I hurt you. I wasn’t thinking.”
Shaking his head, Zephren remembered the siren probably couldn’t see him. “It’s alright. It doesn’t hurt now…” All Zephren could think about in the darkness was how he had never in his life worn shoes before.
He pushed against the wall, trying to straighten when he felt it move a few millimetres with a dull thud. “What is this?” Zeph asked, pushing on it more deliberately as he felt the strange, small movement.
“It’s the back door,” Rosakai stated, standing a little closer.
Zephren moved his hand over it, curious. The smooth texture was what had mistaken him for the wall; painted wood, perhaps. He found the metal doorknob, twisting and pulling on it only to discover it was locked. “Can you open it?” he asked, expecting the siren to refuse him.
Rosakai stepped forward.
There was a sharp snap of the door unlocking, Zephren flinching as he felt Rosakai’s large gloved hand on his. Rosakai turned Zephren’s hand, the doorknob creaking. He jerked it back as Zephren stepped away as the door opened…revealing a world that was not burning into ash, but instead, doused in starlight.
Zephren held his breath as moonlight swept slowly across the foyer, a cool breeze swelling into the house. Somehow, he didn’t feel the pain in his body as he straightened and walked out into the night. It was like he was in a daze, unable to really think clearly.
Bare feet sinking into thick green grass, the wind moved over the small hill Zephren stood upon. He could smell the unfamiliar, sweet scent of nature, mixed with the harshness of brine. It was impossible for him to take in everything he was seeing.
Zephren had never imagined so many shades of blue; the cloudless sky was a dark, thick blanket of it, scattered with stars like dazzling rainbow dust across the night, glittering in clusters. Beneath it, water stretched out to the horizon, mirroring the world in a ripple of waves.
The sound deafened him; the wind making the leaves rustle and the waves crashing upon the shore. “It’s so loud,” Zephren exhaled, wondering if Rosakai could hear him.
The siren stepped into place beside him. “Really? This is quiet to me…peaceful.”
Zephren could feel himself begin to shake. He sank to his knees, the jarring breath making him jump as pain shot into his side. He was startled to feel the tears slide down his cheeks… It was the first time he realized that he was free.
Digging his fingers into the soil, he gripped the land. The cold dirt caked under his nails as Zephren ripped the fine strands of grass from the ground. He didn’t want to ever go back.
Rosakai knelt beside Zephren, reaching to put his hand over Zeph’s fist that was clenched with dirt. “How long were you imprisoned?” Rosakai asked in a low whisper, almost washed out by the sound of wind and waves.
Zephren didn’t look at him, only stared at where the siren’s glove was clasped over Zeph’s hand. It felt so strange to be touched by another person. He had been alone for so long…
Sighing, Rosakai didn’t move. “You were dressed in rags, you look like you’ve been starved, your face has the bruise of a hand print… Talk to me. I want to understand.” The heat of Rosakai’s gaze bore into Zephren. “Did he hurt you? Your father?”
Zeph flinched at his words, awkwardly pushing himself to his feet, one handedly. Zephren turned to look at the siren, where he stood before him.
His appearance was striking and out of place wearing all black leather in such a serene setting. The way he looked at Zephren… Zeph had never known what real sympathy looked like until now.
Zeph didn’t know why it was so difficult to say the words out loud when he could think them so clearly in his head. “If I tell you, I don’t want to go on wounded. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself or have others pitying me. Because I do feel sorry myself," he could feel his voice growing in determination, "I feel weak and cheated… but I want to be stronger.” He stared at the siren, eyes meeting silver, “I need you to help make me stronger.”