She sits in his lap, curled contentedly in his arms while he gently hums to her. Quiet and peaceful, she sleeps soundly and does not stir. A rolling fire kindles in the hearth and casts heat and light to even the farthest corners of the room; it is crackling a staccato-like rhythm and throwing long, stretching shadows up the high, decorated walls. The royal fabrics, drawn tightly over the windows, are not able to mask the soft patter of rain tapping on the window pane with icy fingertips. The room is comfortable. He feels safe; he feels secure; he feels happy.
He sighs and leans back into the soft fabric of the high-backed chair. His hum slowly stops and only the sputter of the fire and the tapping of the rain are left to flit about the room.
“Papa?” He can barely hear her low murmur over the cadences. He opens his eyes to peer down at her. She stares back up at him with large, bright blue eyes.
“Yes, Love?” he murmurs back.
“Why is the rain so loud?” she whispers sleepily.
His lips tip up only just. “It’s loud because the sky is singing.”
“What is it singing about?”
He stops to consider. He runs his fingers through her soft brown hair. “It is singing of rustling leaves, the flicker of a candle’s flame, and of blooming moonflowers.”
She rubs at her eyes with the back of her hand, her eyelashes fluttering. “Why doesn’t it sing of happy things?”
He cocks his head to the side. “Are moonflowers not happy things?”
“No,” she says definitively.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they only bloom when no one is around, and then they go away before someone is able to tell them things.”
He traces the bridge of her nose with one long finger. “Is that right? And what would you tell a moonflower, given the chance?”
She catches his hand in her own. “I would ask one to stay more often because I would be sad when it left.”
The pain in his ribs was the first thing to wake him. He gritted his teeth as fiery tendrils twisted and clawed along his torso with every breath, no matter how shallow. He sat slumped against the stone wall of the jail cell, his arms tightly bound behind his back by thick metal shackles and quickly going numb. Shifting slightly, he tried to get as comfortable as the unyielding granite and his broken ribs would allow. His armor plating grated against the rock, causing the sound to reverberate throughout the small room.
Once in a better position, he leaned his head back against the stone but winced as a sore spot was prodded. He could feel blood matting the back of his head. The side of his face felt swollen, and he would not have been surprised if a large black bruise was already forming along his jawline. He had trouble opening his right eye, so it was probably swollen shut as well. The inside of his mouth was coated in coagulated blood that stuck between his teeth. He turned his head to the side and spit the majority of the thick blood from his mouth. The red stain fell amongst many other scarlet marks that had been ground into the stone, leaving ghostly shadows of past occupants to haunt the floors and even the walls of the cell. He took a raspy breath, trying to ignore the agony in his ribcage, and closed his eyes.
His dreams always tended to be lies, and the one he had just had was no different. Home was no luxurious and warm place with a burning fire in the hearth and curtains upon the windows. No. Home was a hollowed-out room at the back of a neglected house that had long-since collapsed on the north side, allowing for a large, ragged fissure to claw its way across the roof and eat away at one of the thin walls. The furniture was not a collection of plush upholstery: it was a mass of snarled blankets in the farthest corner, piled atop a few mismatched cushions and an old, scavenged mattress with springs jutting from its surface in warped coils.
Home was not a place that felt secure. Home was the place that Engle was startled awake in the middle of the night at every small sound and noise that happened to be heard. It was the place where he would ache to walk the building’s perimeter to be sure of its safety, but it would also be the place where he would be too afraid to leave the single small room for fear of leaving his daughter alone while she slept. It was the place where he would sleep with his pistol in hand because he was too afraid of what might happen if it were not in his grip. Home was not a place to feel safe, and he hated himself for being unable to give Lyric a safe home.
“Here, throw him in.”
A scuffle in the hallway outside of the jail cell caught his attention. A few shadowed figures shifted in front of the door, and a key was slid into the metal lock. With a click, the door swung open, and a figure was roughly shoved through the opening, tumbling to the ground to Engle’s left. Engle kept his eyes as narrow slits, hoping that the darkness of the cell would obscure his face. The large steel door was harshly shut as the figure that had been tossed inside sat up. The man looked about the room, perhaps disorientated. Engle caught the sight of pointed ears protruding from the man’s hair. The elf sighed heavily and slouched against the wall, drawing his knees to his chest.
“Who are you?” The voice came from the opposite wall. The elf looked up and gazed across the room. Engle glanced toward the other stranger, but Okohke’s inert form obstructed his view.
After a considerable pause, the elf replied, “Thalaen. And you?”
The other stranger was silent for a moment as well before replying, “Salleem Bradly.” He chuckled softly, shifting a little and causing his chains to rattle noisily against the stone. “Though, I can’t say it’s nice to meet you, Thalaen.”
Engle’s heart thudded painfully against his chest, and his stomach did a small flip. He closed his eyes and settled back against the wall. His mind began to slip once more into sleep. While he was injured now, it would not be long before he could act. He would be seeing Lyric sooner than he had expected, and the thought made a small smile play across his lips.