Fog ulcerated the ground around them. Forming a circle, it grasped towards the clouds as if to claim the heavens. Thomas sensed the fog shielded them from the rest of the world somehow. Still holding hands, they backed away from the sidewalk onto the grass where it was clear of the fog. The tittering filled the wall of white surrounding them. Rhae unsheathed Astrum Kotero. The sound rang out with a high clear tone, silencing the brood. Warily they stepped out to the edge of the grass. A pair to flank each side of the white woman.
She stood rigid before them with her hands to her sides. Her katana remained sheathed in her black obi. “I have come to parley,” she said.
Rhae scowled and shifted herself in front of Thomas. “Who are you?”
“I am Rue,” she said, “daughter of Peccant.”
Thomas placed his hand on Rhae’s shoulder and nodded. “I am Thomas,” he said, “son of Celeste and nephew of Lynnette.”
Rhae glared at Thomas and sheathed the sword. “I’m Rhae,” she said. “Child of none.”
Rue glanced down to each pair of the brood before walking towards them. The brood took watch at each cardinal point at the perimeter of the fog. Despite what she said, Thomas remained sure that this woman was his twin sister. Her eyes matched his and though her face carried a peculiar lack of emotional quality, she resembled his mother. With ethereal grace, she knelt on both knees into the grass when she reached them. Her hands folded into her lap as she gazed ahead. Rhae exchanged a glance with him before they sat down with her. They waited for Rue to speak in the unmoving air. Moments ticked by without a word.
“Look you came to us,” Rhae said, “we can’t read your mind.”
“Rhae,” Thomas said. He shook his head at her. They didn’t have the weapons to fight here. They needed to keep the peace.
“Forgive me,” Rue said, “I am unsure of myself.”
Thomas wanted to reach out and comfort her, but somehow felt this was not permitted with her. Instead he said, “Take your time.”
Rue closed her eyes and nodded. After taking a deep breath, she gazed directly at Thomas. She said, “I came for that which belongs to us.”
“What belongs to you?” Thomas said, “Something Lisha stole? I can help you.”
“The Spirit Beads. They belong to my father,” she said. “But they have chosen you.”
Thomas pulled back his flannel sleeve. “These?” he said. “Here take them back and give them to Peccant.”
“Thomas,” Rhae said.
“Trust me,” Thomas said. The beads glowed softly against his skin. “Lisha is the one that doesn’t understand.”
“The beads have been purified,” Rue said. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas said.
Rue stretched out her hand to pull the beads off him. When her fingers clasped the string, they were both reeled away to another place and time in a vision the beads gave them.
Wind and tree, flame and sea, I beckon thee
mighty gods of peace, death, and life
bear witness and aide as we journey through this strife.
Oh gods of fearsome death, still thy hands
in this place of sacred life,
give peace unto those who enter our lands.
Heaven above and earth below,
land and sea, fire and wind,
protect outside and guard within.
Infants cry for the first time in the world. Their newborn voices bright, clear, and glorious rang their arrival. Fluttering light from white candles filled the cozy room.
“Twins Celeste,” a woman said. “A boy and a girl. Beautiful twins.”
Thomas couldn’t see much of anything well. Everything was too bright and hazy around him. The blanket swaddled him snugly. He felt safe and secure. A face framed in sunny blonde hair loomed over him. Her white forelock tickled his nose. Eyes like his shimmered at him with an exhausted smile which warmed his heart. He tried to call her, to reach out to her, to tell her he knew she was his mother, but his arms stayed firm in the blanket with a meek gurgling coo.
Keening shattered the windows as shadowy forms broke through, bringing in the rain. Thomas wailed, as did the other infant. He couldn’t see her from where he was. There was so much shouting around him. His mother screamed into the keening as he bounded from one pair of hands to another. Shadows fleeted across him and he was moving quickly somewhere.
“Not my babies.”
Thomas wished he never heard the sound of a mother’s soul being torn from her as the wail ripped through the night.
Firm hands lifted him up to show him another pair of eyes matching his. The aging face frame in white chuckled. “Hello Thomas,” she said. “Where’s the other one?”
Carried through the night, away from the fleeting shadows, Rue tried to make sense of what she saw. The keening and tittering grew louder. Crackling flashes of light blinded her as she was clutched tighter against his bare chest. As much as she wanted to she couldn’t stop her wailing. She understood that this was a vision and that she wasn’t really here. She was stuck helpless in the arms of an incubus. Why would the likes of him help a human infant escape the brood? Red light surrounded them as the incubus was pulled to the broken ground. She rolled free from his arms, cushioned by the swaddling she was wrapped in.
“What have we here?”
Gentle hands lifted Rue up from the brush. An old fatherly face peered at her. “Speak now demon while you still can,” he said. “Who is this child?”
“May you rot in hell.”
“A special child then? Very well then,” he said. “I came to forge a special sword. Give me a name for you to serve.”
“Celeste have you decided on the names for your twins yet?”
“Thomas and Niobe.”
“The names mean twin and tears. Why pick tears?”
My name is Niobe… tears…
“Happy tears silly.”
“Then pick a happy name to go with it so you don’t curse the baby.”
“Kaye means joy.”
My name is Niobe Kaye… but tears…
“Do you hear me demon?” the old gentleman said. “Hurry now before my spell completes and crushes you into a blade.”
“Her name is Rue.”
“A name for regret?” he said. He traced a finger along her neck, whispering an invocation. A delicate chain formed around her neck and his wrist. “I do not regret finding you, little one.”
My name is Niobe Kay Rue… tears are for the weak… only the strong survive…
Red light flashed brightly, the incubus screamed in agony, and darkness returned. Kneeling down, the man picked up an ornate broadsword.
“Nor do I regret creating you,” he said. “Goreblighter.”
Gasping, Thomas opened his eyes to find himself back in the circle of fog. Rhae held him tightly. She watched the brood closely for signs of betrayal but they didn’t move. Disoriented, Rue wiped away tears from her stone like face.
“I am Rue. I am strong,” she said, “and Peccant is my father. He wouldn’t do this.”
Thomas stomach churned. “No,” he said, “but our aunt would and she did.”
“Who?” Rue said. Her hand rubbed her forehead as she tried to stand.
“Take it easy,” Rhae said.
“Lynnette,” Thomas said. His head spun with questions and anger rose. “If you didn’t kill her with the brood then Peccant did.”
“Why?” Thomas stumbled to his feet and failed. “Because she hired Lisha to steal the beads.”
“And I’m here to take them,” Lisha said, landing lightly on the grass.
In swift succession, she struck each of the guarding brood with her flying daggers. Her giant bat wings spanned out wide behind her as her lightly barbed tail coiled at the ready. Tiny razor-sharp horns gleamed at the hairline of her forehead. Thomas wondered how he could have missed her concealer device or if she had been using some other form of glamour this entire time. Rhae stood up and drew Astrum Kotero with fluid motion. Her protective stance kept Lisha in front of her with the other two behind her. Thomas grabbed Rue by the waist as he struck out orbital runes around them.
“Stay with me Rue,” Thomas said, working hard to stay behind Rhae.
Lisha charged in with a running leap. Rhae punched upwards with the hilt, connecting with her shoulder. Ducking down to dodge the slashing barbed tail, Rhae rolled to the side as Lisha hit the ground. Three small missiles of light sent clouds of dirt and smoke into the air at Lisha’s feet. She didn’t have time to glare at Thomas as Rhae came at her with the singing Astrum Kotero. The blade cut through the night, leaving tracers of light behind like blinding ribbons. Shrieking, Lisha took wing high above Rhae and showered her with daggers.
“Rhae,” Thomas said, letting go of Rue. The beads on his wrist glowed brighter.
His orbital runes shot out, puncturing Lisha’s wings and dropping her to the ground. Thomas reached Rhae in a few strides. A dagger pierced Rhae’s shoulder and another pierced her calf. Lisha charged at them with her limp, useless wings trailing blood. Instinctively, Thomas grabbed the sword and parried Lisha’s strikes. Rhae dragged herself out of the way as Thomas bobbed and weaved around the whipping tail.
Astrum Kotero absorbed every rune he gave it and breathed life into it. The blade flowed like water, spoke like wind, illuminated like fire, and held like earth. It lengthened and shortened according to his need. Rippling for illusions and hardening for deathly strikes, this blade was his to command. As he cut off her tail, he realized that this sword was the perfect tabula rasa.
Thomas dropped to his knees in shock, staring into Lisha’s striking green eyes. He cursed himself for becoming distracted. He yelled in pain as she twisted her dagger deeper into his shoulder. Astrum Kotero fell from his hand. Trying to yank himself free from her and she pushed down harder, his ears rang.
“Ah, the Spirit Beads,” she said, “I’ll be taking these now.”
She grabs his wrist as he attempted to shove her away. Her grip held firm though as she reached to pluck the beads free with her crippled hand. Rue kicked her away from Thomas and brought her katana down on the crippled hand. Lisha screeched and twisted around with her last dagger. She wide swing missed. Rue pointed her blade tip at Lisha’s chest.
“Peccant is my father but you are my brother,” Rue said. “Take your friend and go.”
Thomas nodded, collected his sword, and crawled to Rhae. Holding her hand, he drew the runes he needed to teleport to Galen’s shop. With a crackling flash of light, they vanished.
Lisha sneered up at Rue as blood spurted from the stump of her wrist. “You think you’re better than me?” she said. “You think your precious father will spare you?”
“He never does,” Rue said, looking at her without seeing her.
Her katana slid into Lisha with a sick sound. The midnight woman slumped over as Rue withdrew her blade. Turning, she walked calmly into the fog and disappeared.
“There they are,” Galen said. “Celeste, help me get them in the truck.”
Thomas lurched on the ground, but couldn’t stand. Nausea threatened to take him. His vision swam and his ears buzzed. Everything hurt so much that he just wanted to close his eyes and quit. He clung to Rhae but couldn’t tell how she was doing. He needed to know she was okay.
“Thomas,” Celeste said. Her hand caressed his forehead.
“Mom,” Thomas said, tears welled up in his eyes. “Rhae.”
“Everything will be okay,” she said.
He felt them tugging his arms off of her. “Rhae.”
“Let her go, Thomas.”
“No, Rhae,” Thomas said.
The tears flowed as he struggled weakly to hold on to her. Darkness claimed him as he was carried to the truck.