Setting sun and the sharpened form of the crescent moon battled each other for dominance over the sky- though the outcome was known, they shared the stage for a few contentious hours. Autumn had come, the harvest and its celebrations were over. Returned now to simple enduring, returned to letting time slip by as unnoticed as possible– winter was always like this for the twins.
They were still too young. Too young to abandon what they called “home” in search of a better life, though they had no parents to sigh from their absence.
Silas and Somnus had been raised by the Priests of the Halls of Galdr; the Church was their home and the Priest Mother and Priest Father were the only ‘authority’ they were beholden to- though even that thread had begun to fray.
“I mean- look at them, Silas.” Somnus said, repeating a tirade he had long since verbalized to death. “The look in their eyes is bovine. There’s a detached, animalistic inattentiveness about them, the way they talk, the way they move.” He brushed his sand-colored hair from his eyes as he watched the workers returning from their day. The setting sun made his wood-and-amber eyes blaze, emphasizing the indignation in them.
His anger was not abated, but he returned to his work regardless. The binding of an ancient Tome of Galdr was coming apart, so he was making it anew.
Silas knew and agreed with Somnus on his anger- though he saw it perhaps a little differently. It was true the locals were incurious, generally speaking, and they seemed to have no ambition, no purpose aside from living out their little lives in their little ways. Silas, however, wasn’t mad that that was the way they lived; he was mad because he and his brother were alone. The pair of them were multi-passionate, and the root of Somnus’s indignation, Silas believed, was that they were not being nurtured in their pursuits. The farmers here raised another generation of farmers, and nothing else. They did not inspire any growth in themselves or their children, and so the fiery and driven twins felt very much alone.
“We should calculate,” began Somnus, breaking a silence that spanned several hours, “how much longer we have to remain here. They are supposed to keep us until we are old enough to earn a man’s wages, right?”
Silas nodded. “Eighteen years old, the day of the eighteenth birthday we are allowed to leave.” He folded an ear of the book he was reading, and set it aside.
Somnus cast a funny look at Silas- not that he could see it.
“Have we never questioned that before?”
“What do you mean?” Silas asked, popping up onto his bed. He had won the prestigious position of top bunk in a wrestling match- though he had broken a table during the struggle, and earned a good lashing by the Priest Mother from it. An acceptable trade.
“This word…’allowed’. Permitted. If we choose to risk ourselves by venturing out into the world, what grants them the authority over us to say ‘yes, you can’, or ‘no, you cannot’?”
“Well, the government has their program for orphans- they pay the chapel to mind us, so I suppose if we agree to governmental rule, then we agree to the authority of the chapel.”
“Our government is a joke. It’s so feeble, people hardly know it’s there.”
“Imagine if we’d had the Magocracy come to fruition all those years ago, instead. They’d be running the country with intelligence and strength.” Silas said, echoing Somnus’s own opinion back to him. Silas knew that Somnus was impulsive enough to leave without a plan, which would be dangerous, even potentially fatal- so he hoped to change the subject.
Somnus didn’t fall for it. “True, but let’s not disassemble. I don’t think the government has the right to say when we can leave or when we can’t. I reject their notion of having that power over us.”
Silas resigned himself to following the conversation through. “Fair enough. I don’t truly recognize them as being an authority either. But- if we leave, we could easily perish upon the road. We don’t know the world out there at all, which roads are safe, where the cities are, where to find work, or even what kind of work we could get.”
Somnus thought about that in silence for a while. “If we stay here, we would become farmers. To save up enough money to travel, we would have to work for at least five good seasons, even spending minimally during the winters. We would be twenty before we even begin to see the outside world. Twenty three! Maybe more! We would become the very thing we despise. Hell, would the farmers even work with us after how we’ve ostracized ourselves from them?”
Silas imagined a future sprawling out before him of working the fields- it was entirely possible that the fields would be their only choice- unless they took a massive risk.
Silas pondered in silence. He didn’t see any good options. He pondered until, eventually, he heard snoring from the bottom bunk- Somnus had let sleep take him.
Silas did not sleep that night- he never could sleep on an undecided mind.
A few weeks passed since Silas and Somnus had had their conversation, when the energy began to shift in the town. Silas could see it in the eyes of the farmers as they went about their morning duties- they weren’t in quite as much of a sleepy daze, in fact they looked riddled with worry.
Silas went to the Priest Mother about it. The Priest Mother and Priest Father, despite the care with which they had raised the boys, had never seemed particularly attached or invested in either of them. Their attitudes seemed to be a self-satisfied tolerance- as though their sacrifice in raising the boys granted them some kind of religious clout, and perhaps it did, for all Silas knew.
He found her in the chapel’s hall, washing the wooden pews.
Silas grabbed a cloth and began to help with the washing as he peppered her with questions- as he often did.
“Something’s going on. Do you know anything about it?”
“I do.” She replied neutrally.
“What is it? Is it war? A plague? Kitsune?” He asked, fearing the worst.
“Kitsune? We haven’t seen those in nearly fifty years.” She laughed, an edge to her voice- Silas could only describe it as sardonic.
“Well, what is it?”
She sighed, as she stood slowly. Her knees popped audibly with the movement. “I think it be bandits. Word is that some of the nearby towns were struck, but we don’t know which direction they came from, nor went.”
Silas nodded solemnly. “I need to find Somnus.” He said, turning to leave.
The Priest Mother gave him a half-hearted smack on the back of the head. “Just pretending to help so you can get answers, huh? I suppose I should be used to that by now. Somnus is with the Priest Father buying supplies.”
The only resolution the twins had managed to come to, pertaining to their previous discussion, was that at the least they needed to find a Pilgrim’s Map before they attempted to leave.
With the Way of Magic constantly shifting, maps could become obsolete within a few months of their making- the leylines restructured the world around them by some unknown and haphazard design, so what was in one place yesterday may have shifted a mile away by the next- and may have disappeared over the horizon a few months hence. It was more prevalent where the leylines were powerful, which they certainly were not in Yaruna, but both Silas and Somnus agreed that to simply try to leave without any idea of where they were going would be tempting fate. They needed a recently made map if they stood any chance at surviving.
Many of the magically sensitive and adventurous types had begun to make their living by traveling and making these maps- both for the scholarly purpose of figuring out the design of the leylines, and to sell their updated maps to each of the villages they came across. Those people called themselves Pilgrims, and finding a Pilgrim’s Map seemed to be the only hope Silas and Somnus had of escaping their predicament.
However…Pilgrims did not come often enough- and even when they did, how would they pay the Pilgrim for a map?
A dangerous idea leapt into Silas’s head- the bandits would have to have a map- a new one- to be able to roam around as they did.
Did Silas dare to steal from a den of thieves?
Somnus woke before Silas- there was a slight noise, still distant- but unmistakable. A dozen horses were galloping towards the village.
Somnus was out of his bed in a heartbeat. He swiftly slapped Silas awake, then had a lethal-looking dagger grasped firmly his right hand, and was out of the door before Silas had even finished opening his eyes.
Somnus was used to this– though Silas was every bit as quick-witted as Somnus, perhaps even more so, though Somnus would only admit that to himself, and never to his brother, he was the better athlete. Somnus had faster reflexes, a sharper eye, and a stronger arm- not by too much, but by enough.
Somnus waited a few heartbeats for Silas to join him outside the house. Neither of them had changed into night clothes before bed- not that it was much of an improvement- but they would, at least, feel a little less silly trying to defend what passed for their ‘home’.
Silas had armed himself with a metal pole, longer than he was tall, and solid. “We should get behind cover.”
Somnus nodded, reluctantly. Their only goal was to protect the Church, nothing else… though a part of Somnus wanted to engage as many thieves as he could, hoping for some kind of reward for taking them down- something that might translate into freedom, perhaps.
Silas leapt behind a bush just as the first alarm bells rang- there were no walls protecting Yaruna, but the village’s governor had set up some semblance of a night watch.
Noise quickly filled the night- first came the clashing of steel, then screams. Somnus stepped behind a wide oak tree and waited for his first kill.
The thieves broke through the first line of the watch and began to run rampant through the town, utterly chaotic.
Silas was engaged first- a scraggly looking man went for the front door to the Church, and Silas pried him away with his bare hands.
*Fool!* Somnus thought. *You should have whapped him while his back was turned!* Somnus leapt from behind his tree to go help Silas as his fight went to the ground- but came nose-to-nose with an opponent of his own.
The man was both wide and tall, with a round belly and a full beard. He had a hammer on his belt– but not the kind that you would use to hammer nails. It was the other kind.
Luckily, he hadn’t taken it off of his belt yet.
Somnus swiped at him, first with his open hand as a distraction, then with his knife. The trick worked, and he drew his blade across the man’s belly. It was too shallow, but it would certainly be painful enough to give Somnus an edge.
With a grunt of surprise, the man’s massive arm furiously launched towards Somnus, catching him with a powerful backhand.
Somnus spun a little, his head swimming from the sudden shock and pain, but he kept his feet.
Trying again, Somnus went for the brigand’s eyes. This time, the man’s experience saved him. He simply caught the weapon hand, and pulled Somnus in for another vicious strike.
Somnus knew now that he was in trouble. He must’ve come across one of their leaders for him to be so experienced, and to handle the pain of his wound so easily.
Somnus collapsed into the dirt, pretending to be spent from the man’s hit– then tossed a handful of soil towards his eyes, and scrambled to run away.
The man laughed scornfully, the dirt having no effect, but he did not give chase as Somnus managed to flee.
‘Damn–what about Silas?’ Somnus thought, and he circled around the church, hoping that the bigger brigand hadn’t begun to interfere with their fight.
Silas had the man on the ground, the opponent’s head caved in by Silas’s metal staff. Silas looked like he was going to throw up.
“Hey, well done.” Somnus clapped him on the back with his own unsteady hand. “You did better than me.”
“Bleh.” Silas responded. “I thought I’d handle it better.”
“Probably takes some getting used to.” Somnus said. “Maybe we should move inside the church for now.” The sounds of struggle were rising up from all around the town, and Somnus was suddenly very aware that their backs were exposed.
“Did you get your guy?” Silas asked.
Somnus tsk’d. “No. He was a big bastard, and fast for his size. Had to run away.”
“At least you survived.”
The twins sat still within the church for a short while, undisturbed. There was no sign of the Priest Mother or Priest Father– perhaps they’d holed up somewhere safer.
The sounds of the struggle carried on, but no one else threatened the church during the next hour or so. Somnus patrolled within, and Silas stayed near the main doors.
“Perhaps we should look for the priests.” Silas suggested.
“Mmm. I don’t like our chances out there very much.”
“If we stick together– I mean, hell, they’re brigands. Can’t be that smart.”
Somnus grinned a little. “Yeah, all right. Let’s make sure our caregivers are cared for.”
As soon as the twins stepped out of the church, they laid eyes on pure horror. Towards the center of the town, all of the farmers were being tied up and thrown onto large stacks of wood– wood that was soaked in oil.
“T-this isn’t normal brigand shit.” Silas said, sounding sick again.
“No. This is something else. They have nothing to gain from this.” Somnus agreed. “But we definitely can’t do anything about it now. They’ve won. We should…we should go.”
Silas hesitated for a moment. “We still need a map.”
“Either we chance the roads, or we die for sure.” Somnus insisted.
“Bring us the child! The sand-haired kid!” Bellowed a powerful voice from the center of the town, where the would-be bonfire was.
“Oh, hell.” Somnus said, recognizing the man who was shouting. It was his former opponent. Perhaps he wanted revenge for the cut.
“Okay. Either we run and they die, or I die for all of them.” Somnus weighed it for a moment. “Let’s go.”
Silas was too stunned to think– not that Somnus’s choice was particularly shocking, he had never had much love for the Yarunians, but the absurdity of their situation was beginning to weigh on him.
“Uh, yeah. We could probably snag the weapons off the city watch?” Silas managed.
As the two began to sneak out of the town, they tried to ignore the revulsion they felt as they went through the pockets of each of the fallen they found.
After just a few minutes of that, they both had swords, some coins in their pockets, and rations that might last them three days or so. They escaped to the town’s outskirts, and before them lay the open road.
Then they heard the now too familiar sound of horses shaking the earth.
“There’s a second wave of them.” Somnus warned.
“I can hear that! Where do we go?!” Silas sounded panicked.
They were out in the open. They were armed properly now, at least, but they were completely exposed aside from a small group of bushes that couldn’t house both of them.
Somnus took a quick breath. “Go to those bushes. I’ll be right behind you.”
Luckily, it was dark enough that the brigands didn’t see, and Silas was shellshocked enough that he didn’t object.
Somnus watched as Silas dipped behind the bushes, then he lit a torch he’d scavenged and ran back into the village.
Silas realized, a moment too late, what Somnus was doing. He may have been willing to let the villagers die for him– but he wasn’t willing to let his twin do the same.
“NO!” Silas shouted, chasing after the brigands, his feet pounding as quickly as he could manage down the dusty road– but the speed and cacophony of their horses left him unnoticed. As he chased them into the town, he was suddenly yanked off of the path by the Priest Mother, and held down.
“We watched what happened. Somnus is done for, but you can still live!” The Priest Father said sternly as he held Silas in place.
“Let me go!” Silas objected, thrashing against their grip.
The Priest Mother opened herself to the small storehouse of magic she possessed and made Silas go limp.
“At least…let me see.” Silas tried to growl, as anxiety and tears began to threaten to clog his throat.
“Are you sure?” The Priest Father asked.
“I’ll never sleep again if I don’t. I need to know who kills him.”
“For revenge, I’m sure. Don’t waste the chance we’re giving you to live.” The Father scolded, but he brought Silas into a barn where the priests had presumably been hiding, and helped him up the stairs. From this vantage point, the three were quite hidden, and they had a view of the center of town.
Somnus was already being spoken to by the brigand’s leader. He was wearing a blood-stained shirt, and had a wound across his belly. There was a massive steel hammer in his hand.
Somnus did not grovel. He did not beg. He had locked eyes with the brigand, and seemed to be goading him. Silas couldn’t hear exactly what was being said.
Finally, the brigand seemed to make up his mind about something, and he simply wound up his fist and knocked Somnus off his feet.
Somnus was loaded into a horse-drawn cart, unconscious.
“They aren’t killing him. They’re going to take him!” Silas whispered urgently.
The villagers weren’t freed, but neither were they set on fire. The brigands finished looting the town over the next hour or so, then left. Silas was still unable to move, and his heart felt twisted with emotion– but Somnus still lived. A glimmer of hope remained.
“I am going to get him back. If it’s the last gods-damned thing I get to do, I will get him out.” Silas said through gritted teeth. “Just hang on.”