Here are excerpts from Our Architect.
She remembered her brother shouting, food flying, and china crashing downwards. Most of all, she remembered the thrown plate that had lodged itself into the wall only an inch away from her head.
It was all that Architect’s fault. Her brother had told her that. If it weren’t for the device blowing up in the first place, their family would still be in one piece. It was the Architect’s fault, because her brother changed completely ever since that accident. Three full hours had passed since she had left home and still no sign of her brother. She was freezing.
“Sakari,” an alluring voice echoed. After a few moments, the voice tried again. “You shouldn’t stay here, Sakari. It is unsafe.”
“Is that you, Father?” she cried.
Near a narrow alley, a little girl named Faylan Sakari remained huddled in the city’s slums, hidden behind a dumpster filled with stench and oozing with grease. In her small arms, she carried a cold, plastic container filled with the burnt pasta that her brother did not like. She had messy bandages all over her hands. In the darkness, Sakari could only make out a silhouette of a man before her.
“Father!” Dropping the pasta container, she reached out and clutched the white sleeves in desperation. She smelled antiseptics.
Beneath her feet, torn newspaper clippings littered the sooty concrete. The headlines were about an explosion at a highly secured research facility that had resulted in two casualties and two missing. The two missing were husband and wife— a pair of researchers famous for their works in energy sustainability. Nobody found their remains after the accident. The entire Sankai city speculated that neither parents survived, because they had left behind their two children that had survived. Now, these children, neither of age, were the last of the Faylan bloodline.
“Father, how are you? How is Mama?” she asked.
“I’m dead, Sakari,” the kindly voice replied.
“Father…” Her grip loosened.
“Actually…” He breathed out a sigh and said, “What I meant to say is that… we have gone to a very faraway place.”
Then, he took out a pair of kid mittens with hearts on them and started putting them onto her frozen hands. His pale hands were only slightly warmer and slightly bigger than hers.
She seized his arm. “Tell me, Father. What should Kari do?”
“Brother wants to be like you two. Take over your work and become a great researcher. He wants to do all these things, but he doesn’t want Kari’s help!” Her voice started to break. Her grip tightened. She covered her eyes with her arm. “Kari do well in class, and he ignores Kari. Kari make the house nice, and he yells at Kari. Kari make food for us, and he hates Kari! He keeps saying he doesn’t need Kari’s help because he’s older than Kari! He just doesn’t want Kari anymore!”
Near her feet, a stray kitten purred contentedly, gnawing a burnt meatball that had escaped her forgotten container. Near the starving kitten, the newest issue of a financial magazine sat drenched in a muddy puddle. An image of her brother, now known as the prodigious Dr. Faylan, covered the front page.
“That isn’t true. He needs you.” His voice was quiet. “Your brother is trying to protect you.”
“He doesn’t want Kari near him.” Then, she exclaimed. “But how is Kari supposed to help him then? Those mean people always make him so sad and angry!”
Silence lingered, and then a soft chuckle sounded.
“Your brother inherited a lot of your Mama’s traits. Mama was a genius in more ways than one. She was the one that led the research and did many, many great things that make Father and people in this city proud. She was stubborn, cold, and sometimes even cruel. She also had a prideful streak and liked to get lost in her own little world a lot. But in the end, Mama loved her family dearly. She stayed human because of your father. And you two as well.”
Sakari blinked. “Human…?”
“Let your brother protect you. Support you. But when you fall, always stand back up. When he is lost, always guide him back. When your brother falls, don’t give up on him. Be there for him and protect both him and yourself. Because now, only you can protect him. Only you can keep him human.”
“And if he keeps saying go away to Kari? What do you do then?”
“Then I leave.” A sad smile crept into his expression. “But in reality, I always watched from afar. Because deep down despite those harsh words, I knew that I was needed.”
For the first time, Sakari took a glimpse and recognized the plastic bracelets with faded numbers and text on his small wrist. She was once told that only really sick people wore them, and neither of her parents ever did. With curiosity, Sakari lifted her face, all swollen with cuts and scrapes, and studied the blue eyes that looked at her with such deep concern and sadness.
Behind him, the dim street lights outlined a large catwalk. Further away on the opposite side of the narrow walkway, tens and thousands of city lights illuminated the night sky. Cheerful chatter and laughter echoed, and merry music hummed in the background as if beckoning her to return. On the side closer to Sakari, every place was dark with spots of white light here and there from lampposts, old bulletins, and such. From afar, a vandalized mural spanned the outskirts of the city. What once depicted an illusion of a lush forest now served as a painful reminder of the great walls that enclosed this city. Like a transparent globe, a barrier shielded the city from the dark and lukewarm rain, but a few drops escaped, stinging her face.
Unlike everyone else, she saw the breaking illusion and corroding barrier. She saw the lies that the city tried to hide. What kind? She did not know at that time.
“Whoever you are, thank you for being Father one last time. Kari won’t fail.” Her gloved hand touched the cheek of the boy who looked no older than she. Instead of tears, her eyes brimmed with renewed determination. “Kari won’t fail, so you can’t fail either, Mr. Fallen. Kari will win. You will too, Mr. Fallen, so everything will be okay.”
Silence passed, and then he chuckled quietly and asked, “Now how would you know that?”
“Because…?” he pressed.
“You said so yourself,” she announced proudly. “Don’t give in.”
“Three weeks ago, Faylan Sakari was found unconscious and severely injured with a dead child on Story Drive. At first, it was speculated that she had suffocated the minor that was with her, but police and investigators have already confirmed that it was not the case.”
For weeks, this delicious news went viral all across every possible medium. Even now, the three enormous televisions at Three Triumphs Square broadcasted this at least three times in a day.
“A week ago, Faylan Sakari walked free from the crime and has been missing since. There are still no news about her whereabouts. The mother of the child still claims that Faylan Sakari murdered her child, and that is the reason for her disappearance. The mother’s blog about this incident continues to receive several hits after raking in just over two hundred supporters to her cause in a single day. As of now, several blogs and comments all over the Big I have been speculating on this. Stay tune as we discuss rumors regarding a fourth source of energy…”
“Oh, hush with the old news already. You’re spoiling my upcoming date,” Kei muttered, tipping her cap downwards as she trudged across the street with two steaming hot and triangular pies from Three Point balanced in one of her gloved hands.
With the poor and unreliable street lights, no one really had the ability to discern anything except shadows, but Kei had traversed this long path so many times that she cared little about it. Kei, at age nineteen, lived near a warehouse in a run-down neighborhood tucked between A and P Court, the two poorest districts out of four in Sankai. Compared to the two richer districts, P Court at least looked like a rhinestone among the two diamonds, while A Court was sawdust. Rumors had it that A Court was given such a name because the city did not even care to name much less maintain the district.
“I’m home, Uncle. How have you been? A bit lonely?” she greeted to no one in particular. Kei threw her cap and combed a hand through her short hair, which had managed to knot in the back. She then approached the fridge and proceeded to shove in a freshly boiled bag of broccoli. It was a small gift that she had received after her hard work repainting walls and moving crates at an old arcade. “You’re lucky, Uncle. Today, my only date is with a pair of pies. Apple with chocolate crumbs and the good old chicken pot pie. I really wanted another all meat kind, but they didn’t have any. And don’t start accusing me of double dating. Please.”
The flimsy stairs to her place rattled with heavy footsteps. Someone was coming, and she had forgotten to lock the door. In fact, the door was wide open when she had arrived, and it never occurred to her that someone else might have gone inside. Grumbling, Kei bit into one pie, grabbed the other, and snuck into the old, creaky closet to hide.
If anyone wanted a fight, she was all prepared for one after she finished her pie. Kei cringed. Her mood became fouler after each second. It tasted exactly how it did the last time she tried this pie. Instead of tasting sour apples with a hint of sweet from the chocolate pieces, she felt the roots of her teeth ready to rot from the amount of syrup that was pumped into the apple pie. Three Point rarely messed up their pies, so Kei suspected that they must have changed the recipe.
A deep voice called, “Mr. Winter, are you awake? Mr. Winter.”
The burly man that had entered carried a gigantic and glowing hoop on his shoulder. Its white glow illuminated the room, revealing hoards of magazines and newspapers and blotches of stains all over the ground or what was left of it. Little did she know, a child named Winter was sleeping on her beaten futon, and the burly man was kneeling before him.When he reached to touch Winter’s forehead, an angry spark crackled from the man’s fingers, and he quickly withdrew his hand.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why but… Right now, it looks like I can’t bring you back to WallFlower just yet. You probably need to stay here until the pain subsides. Or at least until that person that owns this wreck finds you here.”
“I never advertised this as a five-star dwelling,” she mumbled.
He said, “It has been quite some time since I’ve seen you like this. Did you forget what you used to tell me? About having a family in Life. Thinking of that had always kept you trying to live. Even now, you are still trying, right?”
Life was the realm that normal people breathed and lived in. Life had no magic in it. It had reality.
“The Great Legend used to be around back then too. He took a liking to you. You used to live alone in that dismal hole, but later he brought you to WallFlower. He was always like that. I know because he did the same thing to me. It was because of him that we ever met. You and me.”
Paying little to no attention, Kei continued licking the crumbs off her fingers. The syrup from the pie really made things messy. She jolted when the old shutters rustled, and something down below seemed to cause the floor to groan and shake.
At once, the man with the glowing bangle rose to his feet. The gigantic hoop seemed to rotate on its own. “My presence seems to hurt you, so I’ll get going, Mr. Winter. I’ll get rid of the Bindings around here, so you can return safely.”
Now those words caught her attention. “His presence hurts the kid? What is that all about…?”
When the man finally left, Kei emerged from the rickety closet. For a while, she observed the child on the futon. Winter slept on his side facing the opposite direction, so all Kei saw was his dark and gigantic hoodie and some white clothes underneath. Then again, she did not try very hard to make out his features the first place. In fact, she wanted nothing to do with either intruder if possible. Kei sighed deeply, wrestling in her head whether to kick out or ignore the lump that was her new companion.
“Don’t mind me blabbing away. Since you’re taking up my residence, the very least you can do is not interrupt my date.”
The shiny knife glinted once in her hand. She twirled it and started sharpening its blade while looking at the child.
“Oh, aren’t you looking all piping hot and drool worthy. Like my brother apparently.”
At least, that was what the latest article said about him.
With one chop of the knife, the pie broke into two halves. Its meaty parts and vegetable pieces oozed out. To her delight, this pie tasted as great as it did the last time. Its wafting aroma was addicting. As she chomped down the rest of her meal, she kept an eye on Winter who did not move an inch.
“You know that story that keeps circling the media? About Sakari and the car accident? Did you know that the little kid was a hero, not a victim? He chose to save another person willingly.” Kei blew the hot contents of her pie with great care. Then, she grunted. “Though with just the right spin, the poor kiddo’s heroic act makes him into a pitiful victim and the saved into an accused murderer. How do I know, you ask? I was there. I saw it.”
A loud groan followed by a soft hiss startled Kei. She nearly dropped her prized pie onto the filthy floor. Kei noticed that Winter had stirred a little but remained asleep or unconscious. His hand had turned into a tight, tight fist.
“Hey, hey. Don’t go breaking on me. Your irresponsible guardian or whatever will be right back. I think so anyway,” said Kei, who started to approach the futon.
His fingers were digging into the futon and fabric. Maybe talking about the news aggravated Winter as much as it irritated her to no end. At closer inspection, his hand was pale and clammy.
“That stranger said that you want a family. I’m guessing that the stranger earlier isn’t.” Kei crossed her arms and averted her gaze. “If you two are close, you should stop fighting. I think your current state has scared him to pieces, so he might act a bit overbearing. Even if he isn’t family, you have someone that cares for you already. You are so young, so you’ll have plenty of chances to find a girlfriend and have a kid.”
It amused her quite a bit. A child looking no older than fourteen wanted a family. Correction. Wanted to have a family.
Kei blinked. Only now did she realize that his small hand was latched onto the end of her red tank that she was wearing. The contact surprised her. Her own reaction shocked her. Her larger hand was clamped over his and warming it. She wondered if her concern had to do with watching the news earlier about the car accident and the little kid.
She stepped back, breaking the contact. His hand reverted to clutching and twisting the futon. A pained look returned to Winter’s expression, and she felt a tinge of guilt.
Then, she joked. “Now, now. Don’t settle for so less. I’m flattered, but you don’t want an angry bum like me. Believe me. I stink.”
She then remembered how her father used to talk to patients, especially children, and decided to try. She just spoke whatever came first into her mind.
“Since you’re Winter, you’ll find someone a bit more sunny. Let’s call her Spring. Spring is young and very pretty. She will be someone mighty special to you, and you to her as well. She will have your Winter Jr.,” Kei said, gnawing on the rest of her pie, which had cooled.
A folded blueprint paper from the pocket of Winter’s hoodie dropped near the futon. She picked it up casually with the intent to return it without checking, but the Faylan logo on the paper caught her interest. Everyone knew that no one used anything with a Faylan logo, unless the person was a Faylan. There were only two Faylans, and Winter was not one of them.
“To my brother’s friend,” she read aloud. Her voice went from strong to a mere whisper. “Keep fighting.”
Years ago, Sakari had sent it. Along with the lopsided message, there was a gigantic tic-tac-toe game that resembled a battlefield. The shining and glittery star was presumably the good guy on Winter’s side, and the black blot that resembled an insect was the bad. On the 3×3 grid, the seven stars occupied seven spaces. The black blot took the center of the grid. One space remained empty with text beside it.
“Your turn,” it read.
During the silence, Kei noticed the downstairs ruckus had calmed and everything becoming much too quiet. Her brows knitted together. Moments later, a flash of white flames caught the corner of Kei’s eyes, and she lifted her arm. The bangle hummed in her grasp. White flames from the bangle curled and danced, pricking the pads of her fingers in warning.
“Who are you?” It was the burly man from earlier. His dark eyes pierced hers, demanding a reply.
Kei remained unfazed. “You’re on my property. You don’t have the right to ask me anything.”
“Did you do anything to him?”
“What do you think?”
They struggled for a while with the man unwilling to put his weapon down and her unwilling to release her grip on it. Blood had rushed into her head, and she refused to give in to this upcoming, most likely gruesome exchange.
Before either of them managed to do much else though, Kei’s ears detected faint whimpering. It broke her out of her trance. She eyed the man and said, “You should check on your little friend. He’s acting up again.”
For a while, the man remained silent.
“Who are you?” This time, the man no longer spoke with hostility. The change in his tone caused Kei to look towards the direction of his gaze. He was looking at his bangle. Its once fiery flames had quelled into a faint glow of white.
“Kei.” She relinquished her firm grasp on the bangle, and he lowered it.
“Please,” he said suddenly.
“He is sick. Very sick. He doesn’t have much time.”
Kei sighed with frustration. “I don’t understand what you’re saying…”
“Please become his guardian.”