“There he is, Our Brother,” said the lieutenant, pointing straight ahead of them.
Ketrian looked up. In the center of the square was a stoned pool with a cracked statue of a beautiful robed woman on top of a base large enough to be a small stage. The statue, which was now blood-stained and ashen, looked down toward the ground with her arms open as if ready for an embrace. And there he was: his hands and feet were tied to the statue with his arms wrapped around it. His head lolled on his shoulder apparently still dazed from the knockout. There was a gash on his forehead and the blood that had come from it dripped down the right side of his face. By the way the statue was looking down, it seemed like it was motherly caring for the boy tied to it. But the way the boy’s arms were tied and wrapped around the statue, made it look as if he was shielding her from the heathens below.
As Ketrian stepped up slowly to the statue, his eyes never leaving the boy, a crowd of his Folam started to fill the square watching carefully for Ketrian’s emotions. The smoke was clearing as the Folam waited with bated breath to witness why they were all there. Their backs all straightened more than usual waiting for answers to clear the haze of incertitude.
He stepped into the ashen pool and it seemed to miraculously clean his boots. The stage-like base of the statue in the center rose about four feet high above the water, but Ketrian rose onto it in a swift fluid movement. There he stood on a platform ready to perform for his captive audience, and there the statue stood whose outward arms seemed to gesture an admittance for the performance to begin.
Gone was the boy he remembered. The boy’s face was starting to resemble their father’s handsome look but some features were hard to discern underneath the bruises and shadowy eyes he now bore. His blonde hair was dirty and tangled just like the clothes that hung loosely from his body. Time seemed to slow down as Ketrian examined the boy’s unconscious face, every minute detail he came across took what seemed like hours to comprehend.
He placed his hand on the boy’s head. Then he murmured under his breath, “Hit’orer,” and the boy woke up suddenly with a gasp. He looked immersed in violent confusion as his eyes darted in every direction trying to find out where he was, taking in big gulps for air. Ketrian noticed that he was trying to regain his sight back quickly; the boy looked right at him but his eyes darted elsewhere immediately. The word he used was taking its course but he feared that the boy might seizure if too panicked. Then finally the boy’s breathing slowed from gasping to mild panting. His eyes fell on the person in front of him and then they widened in delightful surprise.
“Ketrian? Blessed Enoch, is it you?”
Ketrian said nothing but his eyes were now fixed above the boy’s brow.
“It’s me, Ketrian. It’s your brother. Or is it not you?”
“Yes, it is me Arthen.”
Arthen’s eyes widened even more. “Oh bless me, oh Maker. Thank you.” Tears cascaded down Arthen’s face leaving clean streaks on his grimy cheeks. “I’ve missed you so much, my brother. I’ve missed all of you so much. I prayed every night for this moment. And here you came to me! This is truly a blessing from Enoch.” His voice started to become weak. “My brother. My dear brother. Where have you been all this time?”
“Far away… and now here,” Ketrian said absently.
Arthen looked left and right to the scene that surrounded them. “What has happened here? I heard the wolves in the distance and–” His eyes widened as he looked down to the Folam. “Ket, what are they doing?”
“You need not worry about them.”
Arthen stared at his brother. “Are they with you? Are you with them?”
“I said you need not worry about them.”
“Ket, please, did they–did they kill everyone? I—I don’t understand. Please Ketrian, now that we’ve found each other, please, let’s just go home and—”
Then Ketrian hit Arthen hard across the face. He heard his younger brother choke from the rush of air. The boy shut his eyes tight shook his head weakly. “Nope. This is just a nightmare. I just need to wake up.”
“Why would you think this is a nightmare?”
“Because I don’t want to find you like this. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
“This is what it is, Arthen. And this is what it has to be.”
“No it doesn't. I don’t know where you’ve been but this can’t be you.”
“It is me. But unfortunately not how you remember.”
Then Ken grabbed the side of Arthen’s head. Arthen’s eyes moved back to Ketrian’s. “It is me, kid.” Ketrian said to his brother quietly. “Don’t you believe me?”
Arthen nodded with new tears welling up.
“Then listen to me carefully.” Ketrian took a step back and his voice then became ceremonious like a lecturer for everyone in the crowd to hear. “After tonight, I’m going to leave you here. But you need to return to us. For He has wished it.”
After these words something eerie happened around the two brothers, a ripple of a shifting in tone in the square. The Folam soldiers that had crowded around them all began to lower themselves to their knees as they started to mutter one word over and over slowly in low tones that seemed to shake the broken stones and make ripples in the pools of blood. Their muttering grew louder as this one word in these harsh voices’ chanting chilled the bones and skin of the two brothers. The chanting started in a defined unison but quickly became out of sync until they became the level of a hurricane, all the while some Folam shrieked like hyenas. Most knelt very still, but some had their own movements like rocking their torsos or heads back and forth. The noise seemed to feel like the whole town square was spinning.
Arthen slowly turned back to Ketrian to see his face for any inclination of what they were saying and the elder brother gave a look of complete certainty. “What is it?” Arthen said.
“Make them stop!”
“I can’t,” Ketrian said quietly. “Not when they’re like this.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve become like this too. That you are like them.”
The chanting grew louder. The sounds of arms and hands slapping against cobblestone echoed in the square like the cracking of trees. Arthen kept looking all around him in a panic, but Ketrian continued to look straight at his brother.
“He wants you, Arthen. That’s why I’ve had to find you.”
Ketrian opened up his coat to reveal a sheathed dagger that was strapped to his upper torso. He unstrapped it and held it out in front of him with both hands: his right hand holding the hilt and the left cradling the other end. A hissing sound issued as if the dagger was biding its time to break free and attack all on its own. Then Ketrian unsheathed it.
The dagger’s blade was pitch black, darker than anything around it, sucking all light in its vicinity. They could hear in the center of their chests the dagger scream like a choir of women writhing in agony that drained all the noise around the two brothers to make the hysterical chanting no more than whispers.
Ketrian looked at Arthen whose expression was a mixture of confusion and fright. He could tell his younger brother was experiencing the same feeling he was: that half of him was in agony just like the shrieks that issued from the dagger. The Folam all around them continued to chant not bothering to look up for the moment that they all came for.
With the blade facing downwards, Ketrian held the dagger in his right hand. His left hand ripped off the ropes holding Arthen with inhuman strength and he threw them away. Arthen fell to his knees at the base of the statue, too weak to fall on his feet or stand up. The elder brother then held the dagger above the younger one. All Arthen could do was look up at his older brother, no longer in confusion, but all fear.
“Please, don’t kill me.”
Ketrian grabbed the back of Arthen’s head and pulled it close to him. He spoke quietly again to him with words that no one else could hear, “I would never kill you, kid. Know that I am giving you a chance to become stronger. We are the only ones that can obtain the strength to disrupt the powers of this world, Arthen.”
Attack. Loot. Eat.
“Stay safe, little brother.”
Ketrian grabbed his brother’s right wrist with his left hand and held Arthen’s hand up high. Then, in a split second, he plunged the dagger into Arthen’s right palm.