Kip woke up to the familiar feel of his pillow along with the smells and sounds that he attributed to the morning in his apartment. He could hear his mother and sister speaking in the small kitchenette area as they prepared breakfast, the smell of cooking permeating the air. It was likely a lump of mystery meat and fried potatoes judging from the fatty, thick, inviting aroma. He randomly thought that maybe they would get some orange juice today?
He knew that it was a limited and expensive luxury as the climate of their valley was not the hot, humid growing weather that citrus plants required. However, since the beast attacks had declined, additional greenhouses and growing areas outside of the main compound had steadily increased in number. The additional growing areas had led to a spike in the availability and variety of food sources over the past half-century, including oranges. The oranges were ginormous and required industrial grade steel to peel, but they still made a delicious juice!
He was in his bed. Although really, it wasn't a bed - just the lower of the two cots on a bunk style shelf attached to the wall which was a foot wider than his shoulders. He couldn't shake the cobwebs of sleep from his mind or the confusion of how he came to be here. The last thing that he remembered was a dash through the forest in an attempt to escape both the "bloodsucking" murderers that had abducted his family and the "King of the Forest" that was keen on wiping anything with a pulse off the map. Had it all been just a bad dream? There is no way all of it had been true, right?
Yogi, Human Vampires, a 100-meter-tall God of Destruction, a death-defying car chase on top of a massive bear for survival? Just too bizarre.
When he strung all those ideas together, it sounded like some hack author had thrown together a story in only a few days. Ridiculous, right?
But wait... someone was missing. He didn't hear the deep voice recounting their latest and greatest trek into the wilderness, adding as much embellishment as possible. Kip had gone to bed many a night to the sound of that same sonorous voice serenading him to sleep with tall tales of one grand adventure or another, finally identifying what was missing, his father. He forced himself to try and get out of bed.
It was a struggle; even his eyes didn't want to cooperate. His eyelids seemed to have become glued together as he slept. He briefly wondered if his sister had somehow pranked him until he finally managed to draw them apart. Of course, the blinding white light that greeted his poor pupils was almost too much to bear (pun intended). Blinking rapidly to clear the moisture now threatening to drown his eyes while simultaneously shading them with his hands, he bravely fought on. He struggled with his sheets and blankets at the same time somehow holding the light at bay while still managing to free himself. Finally, he succeeded in pushing himself up to a seating position on the side of his bunk. His vision gradually faded from all white until he could recognize the shapes and colors of his family's apartment. Victory! Take that you foul bed of bedevilment, I foiled your evil plot to bewitch me for all of eternity.
He thought to himself that maybe he was a bit dramatic as he finally came to his feet and pushed aside the hanging curtains that separated their sleeping area from the rest of the living space. It was probably his Dad's overly exaggerated stories that were rubbing off on him. He confirmed that no, his father was not here as he could only see his sister and mother now sitting at the small dining table speaking in hushed tones. His sister looked normal, but his mother looked...well bad. You would never actually tell a woman anything like that. While he hadn't figured out a ton about how to treat a female properly in a relationship being way too young and all that, he was not a complete moron. His brain was rapidly firing off dendrites to come up with a question that could help discern her health without sounding like a jerk when his sister finally bailed him out.
"Morning sunshine, how nice that you have decided to grace us with your presence," his sister greeted him teasingly.
"How long was I asleep? It felt like ages, and my memory is mush," he answered despite the apparent snarkiness.
"You slept for a whole day and a night," his sister added looking a bit more concerned all of a sudden. "You don't remember what happened?"
Truthfully Kip had no memory issues, but what he remembered couldn't possibly be real thus he chose to discount that part for now. If it had really happened, after all, it meant that his father was dead and the world had become a whole lot scarier place. So instead, he took the coward's way out, "How about you fill me in on what happened to you guys out there? You were gone much longer than expected, and most people here insisted that you were all long dead."
His mother chimed in at this. "We set out as planned and made it to the abandoned power plant in less than two days. We searched where the supposed parts were supposed to have been, however, we came up empty. Everything had long ago been either taken or decayed into basic elements. So after a few days of searching, we started on our way back."
"Which is when the fun started to happen," his sister chimed in helpfully.
"Do you want to tell the story Skyla dear?" his mother asked in a matter-of-fact tone.
"No, you can keep going," Skyla said raising her hands as if in apology for interrupting.
"As your sister so eloquently stated, that is when the fun started to happen. If you consider a pack of wolves five meters in height that wanted to devour us whole, as a good time. Your sister was, fortunately, able to warn us or we may all have perished right then and there. We were able to climb high enough into the forest canopy to avoid their direct assault and set up our hanging camouflaged platform tents. The pack did not give up easily, and despite all that we threw at them, they stalked the forest below us for more than two weeks. We might have still been up there if a large herd of deer hadn't migrated through the area drawing away the attention of the wolf pack. In hindsight, that may have been preferable to what then happened... Skyla, can you continue with the story? My voice is getting hoarse," their Mom suddenly asked in a quiet voice after she realized her strength had quickly waned.
Kip had noticed her voice almost choking up at the last few words of the tale, so he was glad that his sister was now taking over.
"Sure Mom can do. After the wolf pack skedaddled, we climbed down to make our way back here. With most of the predators drawn after the migrating deer, we had a surprisingly easy time of it. We would have likely been back a little over a week ago if we hadn't encountered Banner and his group of cronies only about a half days walk from the Valley," she recounted in a much less embellished version than was usual for her.
Upon mention of Banner, however, the pit that had been forming in Kip's stomach at her recounting multiplied in size.
"He lured us into a false sense of security by saying that their group had been sent out to find us by the Elders. With my ability, I could tell that he was telling the truth about that part, he just wasn't telling the whole truth. I remained a bit less at ease than the rest; unfortunately, I wasn't vigilant enough and couldn't to do much when they made their move. Our rations had long since run out so when they offered us a meal most of us accepted right away. Just as we lowered our guard and stopped to eat, they attacked us with tranquilizer guns. They were trying to capture as many of us alive as possible, but when we resisted they resorted to using 'evolved' powers as well. The battle didn't last long since they out-numbered us so heavily, yet we made them pay, killing seven or eight of them before the rest of us were captured. Dad took out four of them by himself and saved Mom's life, but was injured seriously, perhaps even fatally. I should have kept fighting, but when I saw Mom holding Dad's unconscious, limp body in her arms... I froze up just long enough to get tranquilized," she continued.
So it was all real, Kip realized, as the horror of the evening before last came back into focus. It hadn't been a bad dream, and his Dad really was gone. He hardly heard the rest of Skyla's tale after that as she continued until the moment that he had arrived on the scene.
Skyla didn't have much to add anyway as Dad was already deceased when she woke up from her drugged stupor. They had been keeping her under as much as possible because of the strength of her powers.
Mom confirmed that the crew had been bled out one at a time until only she had remained.
Skyla herself had just awoken from her drugged stupor only a few hours before Kip had arrived. Banner had used those hours in an attempt to threaten her with Mom's death to join him.
Kip finally broke down, burying his face with his hands as the tears refused to stop. He would never see his father again nor laugh along with his sister to one of his crazy boisterous tales. Even if they were mostly fiction, they were something Kip had treasured more than any piece of literature passed down from their ancestors. He felt arms wrap around him as both his Mom and his Sister wrapped him into a loving embrace.
As if sensing Kip's thoughts, his Mother whispered, "Kip, he gave his life to protect us, just like in one of his wonderful stories. He would have also been so proud of how you risked yours to come and rescue us. Besides, imagine how grandiose your tale would have been coming from him?"
"Mom is right; if Dad told the story, you would have traveled 10 million miles, slain five of those Forest Monsters while rescuing beautiful maidens in distress out from under their noses. Then you would have tricked one of them into helping you in a game of high-stakes poker. Then, almost as an afterthought, you would have found Yogi abandoned in the woods and raised him by yourself creating a loyal Bear follower. Sauntered over to Banner's hideout and crushed them all single-handedly. Then dueled Banner's evil mastermind from the back of your T-Rex monster mount to rescue your family from his evil clutches." Skyla added unable to stop from smiling herself at her attempt at imitating Dad.
Almost despite himself, at that thought, he couldn't stop his lips from cracking into a small smile even as he tasted the bitter salt from his tears that had flown down his face.
He remembered a quote his Father had often said. "Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence. Prepare for the future without fear."
"I will try my best Dad," he thought to himself, then turned to back to Skyla and smiled. "Wait, wasn't that pretty much what happened?" He couldn't help but ask.
"Jackass," she said, punching him in the shoulder, her eyes filled with mirth and a bit of relief.
His mood much improved, he couldn't help but remember something from her recap earlier. It had been something that Banner had said before his crew attacked. What was it? Oh yeah, that he had been partially telling the truth when he said that Elders had sent them. Since they hadn't sent them to help, didn't that mean that The Council of Elders knew about Banner's actions or at least some of the Council did? If not, then Skyla would have sensed that he had been lying. Come to think of it; there had been so many people involved, how could someone in leadership not be included? Travel into and out of Fort Valley was restricted for the safety of its residents, but also so foolish people don't try and venture out on their own and get themselves killed. With so many people outside, others had to have known about it since not everybody could come and go from the valley as Kip could.
"Some of the Elder's knew about it," he said before he could think about it, further changing the subject and mood in the room immediately.
"We suspect as much as well," Kip's Mom added.
"We were already trying to discuss what to do about it. However, we shouldn't speak here, "said Skyla.
"Why not here?" Kip asked.
"Remember the girl you pulled out of the cell?" Skyla asked.
"Yes I do, is she okay?" Kip asked concernedly.
"Yes, Lyra is fine, she is sleeping in your Father's old bed right now, but that is not the point" her Mom explained.
"The point is," Skyla added stepping closer to whisper into his ear.
Out of reflex, Kip made a micro cloaking field that only encompassed the small area around his ear and her mouth.
Skyla nodded as if she noticed it and continued in a whisper, "one of her evolved powers is remote viewing. She can send out a spiritual clone of herself that can fly and travel through any obstruction. It is also completely undetectable as far as we can tell. She can't interact with anything but can hear and see as if she were present. There are a few drawbacks as she goes into a stupor while she is using this power, so her body has to be in a safe place. She also has a limited range of about two miles from her physical body. The main reason why we shouldn't talk about it is if one 'evolved' individual has it, why couldn't others? We just ended or at least caused a significant setback to some evil mastermind's plot, so there is a good chance that we may be under observation."
Finally understanding, his mood sobered further, and Kip also remembered how Lyra had been staring blankly at a wall when he had arrived at her cell. Could she have been using her ability at the time? Instead of pondering too much further, he asked Skyla "I see, what should we do then?"
"First off, let's go give some treats to your large bear friend. Then, we'll talk some more. We have a lot of planning to do," she responded mysteriously.