Part two… but before we begin,

Some notes:

  • The title is taken from the Dean Brody song “Brothers“.
  • My final word count clocked in at 6,225… on a story I expected/intended to only be like 1,500-2,000 words… apparently I’m not a very good judge, even of myself. 😉
  • I wrote more than a third of the story late last night and early this morning in a self-imposed writing marathon. I was feeling awful and down, and I just told myself “you can create! You can write from your heart and write what you want. There is no such thing as too tired to give a little time to your passions. Now, go show me what you can do”. And I did, setting a goal for where I wanted to get to before I stopped for the night and reaching it a half hour earlier than I expected and clearing the finish line just after lunch. Sometimes I just need a kick in the pants to get going. 🙂
  • Because I wanted it to still be (fairly) short and not a full-length novel, I cut a lot of planned action out and abbreviated explanations. You can probably tell. 😉 As I said in the previous post, if you’re confused about something or want something clarified or anything, please feel free to comment. I’d be happy to explain anything I missed. 😉
  • You may have noticed, but I l-o-v-e extremely pompous villains and slightly pompous protagonists. 😀 I almost always (subconsciously, actually!) incorporate at least one of each, usually in opposing roles (for example: Lord Warlock and Sage Danh).
  • I’m actually not sure how I feel about this story myself. It was a very interesting thought exploration, and I’m pleased with how I was able to make both halves of myself (“you can’t kill off such an important character, especially one you like”, and “let’s explore every possibility and try every idea, even the dark ones, just to see what can be seen and learn what can be learned”) meet in an amicable arrangement.
  • I’m glad I did this, but I really can’t say one way or the other whether I personally like it or not, or how I would have felt about it if I hadn’t written it but was reading it on someone else’s blog. So If you don’t like it, you won’t hurt my feelings or anything.
  • If you have any thoughts on this you’d like to contribute, I’d like to hear from you! Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and feelings on this story below. 🙂

What Brothers Are For, cont.

Section 2: The Will To Act

“What do I do?” I asked. “Do I go back to Lord Warlock and ask him to take me instead of Jax or what?”

The priest’s brow furrowed. “It is not so simple. Your brother is not dead, and yet he is. He will never return to the land of the living while his soul is captive. And yet even now his life is not gone – it is only his soul that wanders.”

“Then what hope is there?” I asked. My mind felt as though it were filled with sand, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep up with these ventures into matters I didn’t really understand. “Can I go back in time? Can I change it so that this will never have happened?”

“No, no one can shift the tides of time. You cannot change what was. You can only change what will be. The future is raw, unset and changeable, for those who have the courage to take hold of it. If you can find the Keeper of the Keys, unlock the doorway into Death itself… Then, my son, if you have the strength of heart, you can face the darkness and save your brother.”

“Keeper of the Keys?” I repeated, vague memory stirring in my mind.

“The Keys of Death and Hades,” the priest said. “The Keeper holds them, or is them, depending on how you interpret the prophecy. He is the Fourth Rider. His time has not yet come, yet still he strains at the bit, eager to be unleashed upon the world and claim his portion of the living, hungry for their souls. He roams the world, as should never have been, but he escaped his halter. It once was said that such a thing would happen, and that a mortal… but I waste time. You must find him and get him to open the gateway into Death if you would bring back your brother.”

The memory sharpened in my mind, and I remembered. “Lord Warlock – he was boasting of his power, trying to convince me of what he could do. He… he said something about the keys of Death. He said – yes! I’m certain he said he held the keys of Death. But I don’t remember anything about keys of Hades.”

“Go then, my son, and be swift. Walk in the light, follow your instinct, and be not swayed by the darkness. I will watch over your brother.”

I moved to the door and hesitated. “How will I – I mean, what will it be like and what should I, you know, do?” I felt a vague lost sensation, as if opening that door now would it would open into a strange world I didn’t know – the complete unknown.

“I cannot tell you. I have given you all the aid that is in my power. The rest you must discover for yourself.”

“But I won’t have enough time!” I protested, my single greatest fear in this matter showing through.

Sage Danh put his hand on my shoulder. “Walk in the light, my son, and you will know what to do when the time comes.”

 

I faced the waterfall in the glade of the mist-swathed forest where all of this had begun. I took a deep breath, and then another. I knew what waited for me, knew the impossibility of resisting Lord Warlock’s bewitchments; knew I had no other choice. Turning back was out of the question to me; better to die trying to right what I wronged than to turn away in fear now and live my life with my own shame and cowardice, and without my brother.

Walk in the light. I took out my flint and tinder and pulled together done dried leaves and twigs. Very soon I had a rough torch – not the most ideal situation but the best I could manage. Then I stepped towards the waterfall.

No invisible hook grabbed me. No force laid cold of me in any perceptible way. I passed unhindered around the curtain of water, shielding my torch carefully. Silence greeted me, and echoes of my own footsteps. My little light played on the walls as I ventured deeper. I couldn’t see anyone.

“What are you doing here?” A voice squeaked. “I didn’t Call you. You weren’t summoned. Leave, now!”

“You know what I’m doing here,” I said, my heart beating faster at the voice, the voice that I had let ensnare me. “I think we have a deal… that’s expired.”

“You can’t back out now. It’s done – there’s no going back.” I moved towards the voice. “The Masters have claimed their price; you have the power you sought. Our deal is closed, sealed, unchangeable.” The light from my torch caught the black-robed man. He hissed like an angry cat and shrank against the wall.

“I can’t go back in time, but I can escape the deal. Our agreement never included anything permanent or anything against dissatisfaction guarantees. I’ve decided I don’t like the deal. You take the Deplorable Word back from me, and give me back my brother. And we don’t have to ever hear of each other again.”

He spat, seeming angry, frightened, and amused all at once.

“Give you back your brother?” he cackled. “Death binds him. The Masters keep him. You cannot get him back. They wanted royal blood; I couldn’t get your father, so I gave them your brother, with a little tip for myself – you. You gave yourself to me and you are mine now.”

“No I’m not,” I said, hoping I was right. “You said yourself: I wasn’t ‘Called’, and yet I came, against your will, I doubt not. And I will never serve you, nor allow you any power over me again!”

“Such is not yours to dictate!” he snarled. “I can have you, willing or no.”

“Over my dead body!” I said, drawing my sword. Lord Warlock slipped to the side and dodged away. I leapt after him, knowing it was imperative to keep him in the light and so on my sight.

In all my years, in all my fights, I had never fought one so strange. I chased the old man around the cavern, slashing uselessly at him. My sword did not seem to touch him; at times I swore it passed right though him. His greater fear seemed to be of my torch. My sword arm was as strong and limber as ever, but my left felt like it had suddenly turned to lead. Some other will, his, I didn’t doubt, wanted me to drop it, to let go. To lose that light would mean defeat. I would never see anything, he would get away and I would never get the Keys from him. Jax would be lost forever. I fought back, resisting. The real battle was a battle of wills.

“You cannot destroy me!” he spluttered as I pinned him against the wall for the second time.

I don’t know what made me do it, but an idea suddenly came into my mind and I did it without thinking. I swung my left arm with the torch and smashed it with all my strength into his chest. He howled, as well he might, and dropped to the ground writhing and contorting for a few seconds.

“Not by a mortal!” he gasped, and lay still. His body shrunk, moldering to smoke and drifting away, leaving only a pile of robes and a plain hawthorn staff. With a start, I realized my torch still burned on where it lay on the ground. I picked it up and prodded at the robes. It didn’t take long. I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly, but I didn’t have to. When I saw them, I knew. Two keys, larger than any I had ever seen, black and rough like iron, heavy as no metal mined in this world. As my hand closed on them, I saw everything. Not as if the cave had been lit up, but as if I could see despite the dark, as if I had the eyes of the night prowling wolf. A door. Only one. I would hazard a chance.

I stood before the door, Keys in one hand, torch in the other. I tried to breathe steadily, but my breath was coming quick. I felt cold and clammy all over. Is any man ever ready to knowingly walk living into the jaws of death, not expecting to return it even succeed in his mission? I knew I would never be. If you have the strength of heart, you can face the darkness and save your brother. If. Did I have the strength of heart? How could one tell ahead of time? I couldn’t. It’s your own fault. You’ve got to make it right, before the future becomes the past and is no longer changeable. It’s the only way. I tried not to ask myself how I would do it, because I didn’t know the answer.

I swallowed, and tried the first key in the lock. It wouldn’t fit, no matter how much I turned and finagled.

“Oh great, it probably has to be opened by a certain person, like Lord Warlock,” I muttered to myself, fighting back fear and panic. I tried the second key. After a moment’s struggle and a twist, the key slid in and turned. The door ground ponderously open. Death had not found me, but I had found him.

I didn’t know what I expected to see, so I wasn’t disappointed. To be honest, I don’t remember a thing of the time in there clearly, but the memory, though shadowy, comes back like a horrible nightmare. Shadows and darkness cluster around it like moths around a light. The choking horror and blind despair still haunt me like evil ghosts, though what happened escapes me, which I’m probably grateful for. I remember clinging to my feeble torch like a drowning man to a lifeline, warding it before me like a weapon. And I remember when I found Jax.

An eerie glow was before me, dim and orange like flames, but light though it was, if more an evil cousin of it, it filled me with dread. I drew closer to it nevertheless, hoping vaguely it would help show me where to go and what to do. The glow emanated from a crystal-like thing, orange in hue and taller than me. I could see through it, or in it rather, and inside I saw the shadow of what had been my brother.

“Jax!” I blurted, “What happened to you?”

“What do you mean, ‘what happened’? You killed me. I’m dead. What are you doing here?”

“Getting you out,” I said. “Look, it’s all really complicated and mixed up, but I’ll explain everything when we get out. I’m just – well, I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how much I more than regret all this. And I fully expect you never to speak to me again when it’s over, if it’s over. Do you… understand?”

“I’ll wait till later to figure this out. Jorn, you shouldn’t be here. The Masters are coming – they steal the souls of the dead for sport and evil designs. They will come for me soon. You have to go. They are an enemy you can’t fight.”

“I’ll have to try,” I said. “How do I get you out of there?”

“I don’t know. There’s no time!”

I glared at the crystal. Though I doubted it would accomplish anything, I slashed at it with my sword. It scratched the surface but did little else. I held my torch to it, but the tiny flame did nothing. I circled the thing searching for any secret latch our hidden knob to open it somehow. I forced myself to work slowly, though Jax’s words had filled me with frantic desperation. Steady, Jorn, steady. Then I saw it; a small keyhole at the base of the crystal. I looked dubiously at the Keys tucked into my belt. They were so huge! But I had to give them a try. They were the only keys in sight. My fingers seemed to be all thumbs as tried to fit the Keys into the lock. I fought down nervousness and fear and tried the Key again. It slipped in and turned. Nothing happened. Then, with a crack that shook the air like thunder, the crystal split open. Jax, wraithlike and transparent, fell free. He scrambled to his feet.

“They’ll be right behind us. I’ve no idea how you got here looking like that, but I assume you know where you’re going.”

“Looking like what?” I asked, perplexed. I glanced down. I seemed normal enough, if a bit worse for wear.

“Well, you look really… thick. Like, almost sticky sort of. But never mind that. Where are we going?”

“Well, you’re transparent, so I guess we’re even. I’m going to try and find the way back out. Come on.”

Jax tells me that the Masters, whatever demons they were, came after us and tried to stop us, but didn’t dare come into range of the torchlight. I don’t remember myself, except trying to keep both myself and Jax in the small pool of light it cast. It seemed like years that we searched, ever afraid that the torch, which had burned so long and was our only protection, might gutter and die. I’ll never forget the moment or the relief I felt when the feeble light of the torch outlined a door, huge and wrought of black iron. The door I had come through. I slid the Key into the lock. The door swung open, and I stumbled into the land of the living.

I turned to Jax, but when he stepped out, he disappeared, as if he had only been a figment of my imagination. I closed and locked the door and slumped on the ground. Now what? It was a question I couldn’t answer. It was then that I realized I couldn’t remember at all what the Deplorable Word was, or had I even learned it? I didn’t remember, and didn’t care.

Slowly I made my way out of the cave. My horse still waited for me, munching on the sparse grass in the glade. I pulled myself into the saddle, more weary than I had ever known I could be. Asher set off at an easy to Sage Danh’s cottage.

I was lost in circling thoughts and almost asleep when I came again into sight of the cottage. The door was open and Sage Danh stood in the doorway, a smile on his old wrinkled face.

“Well done, my son,” he said. “You have conquered.” He stepped aside and at his shoulder I saw my brother. Jax. Alive and strong as I knew him. At that moment, everything I had gone through, all the terrors I had faced, was suddenly worth it.

“I expect a full explanation, but it can wait till later,” he said, smiling.

The most that can be said for me is that I never made the same mistake again. The least that can be said for Jax is that, if he never quite understood, he has forgiven me for everything. Power is alright in its own way, but a true friend and brother is beyond any price. The lesson, hard taught, wad one I never forgot.

It does not belong to this tale to tell of how we faced the Azaeli, of the impossible bargain, and of our victory over them. Nor does this story tell of the hard winning back of our lost lands, and restoring the Galdor of old. All that remains to be told are the words that burned into my heart and have stuck with me, the words Sage Danh said to me when Jax and I left.

“Does the night ever snuff candle? It is the candle that snuffs the night. Wherever it goes, it triumphs. Though it might seem small, it’s victory is sure.”

 

Now you know my story – the ugliest, darkest part of my past. I hope it will save you the grief it cost me, but of nothing else, I beg you to remember this: Beware the allure of power, and never forget what is really important – the things you would give your life for. Walk in the light, my friends, and you might see me sometime. Farewell!

 

So that’s it. What are your thoughts?

~ Kat

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