Brother and Sister sat, and Sister ran a finger down the length of the ebon wand, caressing the wood. The entry door smoldered and another piece of its splintered framework fell to the ground as they watched. Outside, the lifeblood of the guard ebbed into the greedy ground from numerous lacerations and the bloody stump of his neck. His head had bounced some ways and lay tilted on the cobbled street, wide-eyed and starring at the sky.
Sister gave a contemptuous smile. “That should give them some second thoughts.”
“Why must you always be so, my Sister?” Brother asked. Brother felt old as world’s creation, and the winnowing of time and their journey had taken its toll upon him. Not so his twin sister. She only seemed to gain momentum, as if time were siphoning what had once been Brother’s and now filled her with power. For there had been a time, when they were yet young, that he had been stronger than she. Now she had grown so willful, and Brother no longer had the strength to fight her.
“Why must you always be so, my Brother?” Sister said in whiny mimic. “This place rots of order and law.”
“Have you forgotten you brought us here? Will you never let us find peace?” Brother asked, looking about the ruins of the once well-composed family room. “I slumber and this is what you do?”
“You have forgotten what it means to live, Brother. Your once noetic fire has turned cold. Your passions are a muted painting drained of color.”
“I have not forgotten. Passions must be tempered. You waste your talents destroying and desecrating the only things that bring lasting happiness. Take pleasure in the simple things, like this home we found.”
“The home of a thief? You surprise me, Brother.”
“He did as he felt he must.”
“As do I. There is no lasting happiness, Brother. Not in this land.”
Perhaps not in Nidal, Brother reflected, and not for the first time he wondered why his Sister was so compelled to travel north. As close as they were, she kept her thoughts hidden. “We could always go elsewhere.”
Sister smiled. “And we will, once our task is done. Don’t worry, we shall find a new home.”
Brother looked aside and rubbed away a tear. “A new home for you to wreck yet again?”
“Once it no longer suits me. There are many homes for us.”
Brother shook his head and wiped the blood from one hand against a discarded tunic. It did little good. Blood was everywhere. “And the woman. The woman was good to us. Fed us, patched our clothes, kept us close to her warm bosom.” He indicated the sprawled form in the middle of the room with the dress hiked up over the hips, its belly ripped open from the bloody axe that lay beside it. Brother couldn’t see the woman’s face, and for that he was grateful.
“The woman smothered us. Always nagging. Nag, nag, nag.”
“And the children?” Brother could not bear to look at what remained of the two still shapes scattered in tangled masses before the dying fireplace, their digits sprinkled across the floor like red chalk pieces. Another warm tear slid down.
“Little piglets! Eating half the food, taking up all the money so the rest of us couldn’t enjoy the just rewards of our hard work. Little piglets.” She spat.
“Oh, Sister. When will this ever end? You damn us.”
“I free us.”
And before Brother could stop her, Sister jerked the slender wand underneath chin and triggered its power.
It was several moments before Captain Mavris dared lean his head through the shattered doorway. A hard man, he had given all allegiance to Zon-Kuthon when but a youth. His arms were scarred, signs of his weekly commitment to the Midnight Lord, and bulged beneath his grey leather armor. His eyes took in what was left of the shattered home. Rain dripped down through the newly created hole in the roof from the last blast.
“Is the home clear, Captain?”
The captain turned his head and gave a curt nod.
An elder man poked through, clothed in black robes. His head was bald and pierced with barbed pins, and the right side of his face was stripped of skin. Chains hooked through his chest and dangled freely down his body, chinking with his movement. He took the room in with one quick eye sweep before giving a grunt. “What a bloody mess. Where is your other guard?”
Captain Mavris looked behind. Kal had just entered service and was shaken from the demise of his companion Silas. After what they had seen, Mavris didn’t blame him. He motioned for the young guard to come forward.
Kal came, his face ashen. Captain Mavris didn’t think his face could turn a paler white, but it did when confronted with the butchery laid before them.
“Sweet Desna,” Kal gasped, and emptied his stomach in a steaming heap. He wiped his mouth and turned to look at his Captain and the priest, who were both staring at him.
“What did you just say?” The priest’s eyes blazed black.
“I…I…” Comprehension had already dawned on Kal, and his fingers touched his lips as if he could bar what had already been released.
Captain Mavris did not hesitate, but drew his sword and plunged it into Kal, even as the youth turned to flee. Kal fell with a cry.
The priest’s disgust was palpable. “Now they even begin to try and infiltrate our ranks. He will make a fitting sacrifice to Zon-Kuthon in the thief’s place. And perhaps we will be looking into your hiring practices, Captain Mavris.”
“Yes, sir.” Captain Mavris knew it would be fruitless to defend his recruiting methods now. He would only look that much more suspicious.
The priest gave the red drenched room one last look. “What do you suppose would make a man do that, try and rob a Lord?”
Not what would make him kill his wife. Not what would make him hack his children into bits. What would make him rob a Lord? But Captain Mavris was not given much to such thoughts. A soldier did not question. Still, he replied, “Monsters in the attic.”
Captain Mavris shrugged. “That’s what my grandmother would say when someone went crazy. Monsters in the attic. You know.” He rapped his knuckles against his temple.
“Yes, I get it, Captain,” the priest said, leaving no doubt that he could care less for grandmother’s insight. “But the only monster here is the one bleeding on the floor. Shackle him. And retrieve that wand. We don’t want it falling into the wrong hands.”
Brother drifted with his Sister, filled with the numbness that always came when they exited a home. He could feel the charge that gave them cohesion fading away. He wanted it to end this time, to let that slow fade go to black, but Sister was already pulling them forward.
“This one,” Sister said, slipping into Captain Mavris as he drug a sodden, weeping Kal from the site.
And Brother had no choice but to follow, for they were one.
Sister stretched herself out and smiled at Brother. “A new home.”
“There has been another slaughter.”
Athoran’s attention was latched to the man leaning against the podium beside Lord Nisha. Dressed in black leathers, he held a book and seemed to not pay the least attention to what was going on about him. He was pale of face, with long dark hair. Varisian, but with some Chelaxian mixed in perhaps. There was nothing of particular note about him, except for his eyes. They glowed a sullen red in the low gloom of his Lord’s court. A tiefling? Strange. Athoran’s arms snapped forward, and he cried out as he was wrenched forward by the gaoler. Blood wept from his wrists where a barbed spike speared them together. A chain dangled from it and led to the gaoler’s clenched fist.
“Did you hear me, Athoran? There has been another slaughter.”
“Your experiment is out of order.”
Experiment? When was the last time he had indulged in research? In the blackness of the dungeons, one lost track of time.
“Yes, m’Lord.” Athoran gazed back into Lord Nisha’s black doll eyes. He had seen a shark’s eye roll over black once, and it held more compassion. Nisha sat on a throne of flesh held together with barbed wire, much like the man himself, and looked down on his pathetic vassal. Once, Athoran remembered, he had not been pathetic but Lord Nisha’s most esteemed wizard.
“Lord Erik is here from Queen Abrogail to help see you get this affair back in order.”
The visitor dropped the copy of Umbral Leaves he had been thumbing without grace onto the podium where it landed with a thump. Penned by a prophet, it held Zon-Kuthon’s teachings for his Lord’s Umbral Court. The man’s hand went to rest on a silver-gilded rapier at his hip. Lord Nisha’s eyes narrowed, and Athoran cringed as though he might be punished for the afront, but Erik seemed oblivious to Nisha’s ire. This one has a death wish, Athoran thought, or would wish he were dead. Likely it was only the influence of his Queen that spared him.