Data Collection Day
“Ew,” exclaimed Brona.
One of Galladrad’s veins was sticking out of the earth. It was limp like the stem of a wilted dandelion, and it left a stain of dusty blood across Brona’s shoe. She gagged. It wasn’t that the sight of blood grossed her out, it was the thought of how ancient that blood was and how bad it smelled when you brought it close to your face (which every curious child did at some point). Then she remembered that she’d drank the blood of a dead man just last night in a soup her tongue deemed delicious. Brona had some conflicting feelings.
“Brona, stop acting like a dipshit,” spat Grendt who looked twice as dead as usual. Her fingers tightly woven around a coffee mug. Yesterday, her daughter was nearly stepped on by a Giant and was exhausted to the point that she could barely use her Ouroborics. That night, Brona didn’t even get to rest deciding instead to further push herself to Project Brian. Then today was ‘data collection’ day, a day where Callum and Brona gathered information on the Task Curse from the Sunnish people. A day Brona refused to miss. Grendt couldn’t risk her daughter collapsing on the walk to Callum’s house, let alone chance her collapsing with a Giant walking around. Although she would have rather slept-in this morning, Grendt woke up at her daughter’s ungodly rising time of 6AM and escorted her to the Tenefrit mansion.
For once, Brona didn’t bark back at Grendt. “Thanks for walking me here Grendt. You can go home now if you want.” One of Grendt’s bony hands unclasped itself from the mug and squeezed Brona’s chin before disappearing in a blink. At that same moment, Callum exited the side door of his mansion, tapping the handle with his finger before closing it. He was laughing, chatting with Donegal about something seemingly inappropriate as they tried to hush each other coming outside. Donegal winked at Brona as he passed her, stretching his legs with a jump before picking up a wheelbarrow. He was too happy to start ‘work’ for the day. These Seltans were bizarre.
“Sorry I took so long getting out, Brona. I couldn’t find my belt. I’d just had it commissioned, ’was really cute with animals on it…” said Callum, fitting a different belt around his waist with a slight look of disappointment. Brona didn’t have an eye for fashion. There was a reason why Grendt and Callum chose her outfits. Left to her own decisions, Brona would pick the same set of comfortable pants and cardigan for everyday of her life.
“I still think you look as cute as usual?” said Brona trying to kick Galladrad’s blood off her shoe. It just moved the blood around.
“Oh fashion-less one, your empathy is evidently a falsehood. But thank-you,” said Callum, pointing Brona towards the patio. On data collection day, it was Brona and Callum’s tradition to share breakfast in each other’s company. The food and plates were already set out, mainly eggs and baked goods. Callum used the towel hanging off the table to wipe the dew from the chairs. He also reached into his tote and handed Brona a leather volume and pencil (she would need them later today to log the data). Brona took out the map that was tucked into the notebook’s spine. It was outdated, still reading the province as ‘Titan’s Table’, but it was marked with all the necessary landmarks to help Brona and Callum decide upon the shortest route to visit people. Under today’s date, the notebook showed Callum’s cursive spelling out twelve names. That meant twelve people had received Task Letters in the past ten days which meant Brona and Callum would have to visit eleven houses today (Brona’s Task Letter information was already logged).
“Was that Grendt I saw just now? She’s not coming with us today, is she?” asked Callum, passing the puffed eggs to Brona. “Last time she came, she hurt my poll numbers swearing at people who looked at you funny.”
“You know she goes everywhere I do. It’s her choice if she appears, not mine.” Brona accepted the eggs and added them to her plate. “But no, she just wanted to walk me to your house today.”
“That’s uncharacteristically motherly of her…” said Callum, tapping his index finger on the table and adding scrambled eggs to his plate as well.
Through the kitchen window, Brona could see staff carrying tables and rearranging chairs. They were preparing for tomorrow evening’s election party. On election years, Callum liked to host a gala with his supporters in a last-minute effort to gain more votes. Though his re-election was virtually assured, he said it never hurt to win the votes of passers-by.
Callum stared at Brona with a judging look. It made Brona feel itchy.
“I expect kids to develop cuts on their knees, after all, children are incredibly uncoordinated, but you have a big scratch on the side of your cheek,” said Callum, pointing at the area on his face where it mirrored Brona’s. “You get in some sort of fight yesterday? ’That why Grendt walked you here?” Brona hadn’t paid much attention to her physical traumas from yesterday, but now that Callum was pointing it out, she recalled her face did hit the ground a few times…
“THERE’S A GIANT LIVING IN LATE SUN!” blurted Brona. “After leaving your house, I went to the grass fields to collect some ingredients for Ouroborics, but then huge trees appeared, and he came, and he was taller than even your house, and he almost squished me, but Grendt saved me using a really cool Distortion that exploded one of his shoes, and then I tried shouting at him, but he didn’t hear me and then he just disappeared!”
Callum’s fork dropped onto his plate. “Whoa, chill, Brona. A Giant? That’s…unlikely.”
“No, he was real! He had an accent,” said Brona. “Um—,” her eyes darted about while her hands tried to articulate the scene from yesterday.
At the point Brona was on the floor pretending to be the Giant talking about soil layers, Callum conceded, “No, actually, I’m sorry. I believe you, Brona. It just doesn’t make sense why there would be a Glutantoj in Late Sun.”
“Your Donacchium—,” started Brona.
“Oh. I see. He could be the reason that the Donacchium burns towards the woods.” Callum paused and brought a hand to his chin to rest his head. Brona knew he was prioritizing a set of questions in his mind to ask her. He scratched the facial scruff on his jaw. “You said the forest grew?”
“It was like the forest in our backyard, kind of around the town, but I don’t think the trees grew. It was like they were always there… I could just see them now.”
“What did the Giant look like?”
“Nerdy,” said Brona. “He had blonde hair, I think? And glasses. His eyes were really pretty too, they looked like they were gonna fall out of his head sometimes. He also had teeth.”
Callum laughed at the child’s description. Based on how the Giant looked, Callum thought he might be able to narrow down his lineage. Brona’s recollection of the Giant would need to be more detailed though, as most Giants in history were fair skinned and had lighter hair colours. He tried to recall where he placed his encyclopaedia on Glutantoj hereditary lines. He had immaculate organizational skills, but lately it felt like his house was taking things from him at random.
“Did the Giant say why he came here?”
Brona shook her head. “He talked to himself about soil and asked his ‘dad’ to pass him things. But everything he asked his dad to do, he just did himself. When I reached the gate, the Giant got harder and harder to see…Like my eyes couldn’t focus on him anymore. But I don’t think he came here. I think he’s always been here. We just can’t see him.”
Callum laughed nervously, “That’s great, there’s an invisible titan in Late Sun who might kill us all by accident.” He took a long drink from his cup of water. Brona was unsure of Callum’s mood and followed him, sipping her cup of tea out of anxiousness. Brona envisioned the lawn below the patio balcony being crushed by an invisible force. It would probably happen so quickly, they wouldn’t even noticed they’ve died. Or, they would be on the ledge of the behemoth's shoes, watching half of their innards spill out.
“Well—I suppose if he’s always been here, then there haven’t been any problems yet, right?”
“That we know of,” said Brona. Why did all the adults around her try to throw a positive spin on things?
Most of the food was still on the table. The conversation had distracted the two from their routine, but it appeared Callum was full of curiosity now and would not be finishing his breakfast. Brona was just full of eggs and jam.
Somewhere in the distance, the two heard Donegal bark in pain as the wheelbarrow rolled over his foot. Brona winced, and Callum jumped, appearing to be taken out of his trance. He straightened his back to look over Brona to see if Donegal was alright. He was fine. Callum looked back to Brona, “How rude of me—I didn’t ask, are you alright from yesterday? Did the Giant hurt you?”
“Only mentally,” said Brona, reaching for a scone. “But his negligence doesn’t even begin to compare with Grendt’s. He just didn’t see me.”
It was astounding how much a single person could occupy so much of a person’s mind space. A testament to his grandeur, the Giant had influence beyond just his physicality, hinging in Brona’s thoughts every spare moment. Callum nodded slowly. It looked like the Giant was starting to coil his presence in his mind as well.
Trying to bring himself back to the present moment, Callum pointed to the small cloth on the right of Brona’s plate. The two unfolded their linens, picked up the concealed pill within, and strainfully swallowed their vitamin D tablets. Brona thought their skin got more and more grey every year. Coughing slightly, Callum leaned in closer to Brona with his hands folded under his chin trying to compose himself. “One last question, if you don’t mind,” piped Callum. There was a darkness to Callum’s pink eye-shadowed eyes that Brona couldn’t quite decipher. “Do you think the Giant receives Task Letters?”
It wasn’t something Brona could confirm or deny, but that was a good question. If the Giant received Task Letters, then that would mean he was trapped in Late Sun like everyone else. And if he was trapped, surely he was looking for a way out.