An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Twins Dian

When the knock sounded on his door, Dian closed his eyes and exhaled a groan of exhausted frustration. Would it never end? Emilia had told him that the other Clerks would be trying to pry information from him, but that simple warning did little to prepare him for the seemingly unending stream of strangers that had passed by his door since his audience with the Stone Seat. Each visitor tried a different tactic. He had been flattered and bullied and bribed all day. One particularly forward young woman had even tried to seduce him with thinly-veiled promises of pleasure.

They had all gone away disappointed—and in some cases, visibly angry.

So, when he heard yet another knock, he decided to ignore it, focusing instead on the various items scattered across his bed, imagining every possible scenario that he might encounter on this mad journey to the Fellwood. Though it was summer, he knew enough to pack warm clothes for the journey across the Deadland Steepe. The sun’s heat simply would not hold on that arid, lifeless plain, and even the warmest days could turn frigid after nightfall. When Joined with Azental, Dian had flown over the Steepe more times than he cared to count. He had seen the scattered bones of men and bests who ventured, unprepared, into that wasteland.

There was another knock at his door. Again, he ignored it.

Beyond the warm clothes and thick blankets, however, he had little sense of what else he might need. He considered arming himself, but he was no warrior. Besides, Magi Kaden had ordered that the Hunters be gathered. If they were forced into any sort of conflict, he would already be surrounded by the strongest and most well-trained warriors in all of Tarvayes. A knife could prove useful, however. He had already seen what such a tool could do. The image was burned forever into his memory.

It was the reason he was packing for this journey in the first place.

At his door, the knocking persisted. “Obsidian!” called a woman’s voice from beyond the thick rosewood. He recognized it as belonging to Emilia. “I know you’re in there! Now open this door at once. We’re getting tired of standing out here.”

We? Dian wondered, crossing his small room with a sigh. Who else would she be with? More of her Clerk friends? But she was the one who first warned me to say nothing about the audience. Surely she wouldn’t be looking for the very information she told me not to share. He unlatched the door, opening it slowly, uncertain of what he would find.

As expected, Emilia was standing in the corridor beyond, though she was dressed in a long skirt and simple blue blouse rather than her formal clerk’s robes. Her attire, together with the way her chin-length black hair was tied casually behind her head, told Dian that she was not here on official Citadel business. Immediately, he found himself wondering why she had come, until he looked to her two companions.

Sheeva and Larus were among Dian’s few close friends. They had known each other since they were children, when they had all come to the Citadel after their first Joinings. Like Dian, they had been considered outcasts, mostly because it had been virtually impossible to tell them apart. That was common enough with twins. The problem was that Sheeva had been a girl who looked a bit too much like a boy, and Larus a boy who looked a bit too much like a girl. The other children had been openly cruel about it, while many of the Magi who instructed them found more subtle means of showing their unwarranted disapproval.

Such as frequently grouping the twins with Dian.

Time, and the natural order of things, did eventually resolve the problem. As they grew older, Sheeva’s femininity became more pronounced, until it was impossible to mistake her for anything but a grown woman. For his part, Larus grew taller and thicker than his sister, and masked the still-delicate features of his face behind a thick beard. Still, the resemblance was obvious. They had the same blue eyes—a rare trait in the people of Tarvayes—and the same faint, copper sheen to their dark hair.

“It’s about time,” Emilia muttered. “I thought I was going to have to bang on your door all evening. What were you doing?”

“Ignoring the knocking,” Dian replied with a shrug. He opened the door wider, inviting the clerk and the twins in with a gesture of his hand. Wordlessly—for no words were needed between the friends—he embraced both Sheeva and Larus in greeting. “You were right, you know,” he told Emilia. “I’ve had a steady stream of guests all day, each wanting to know what happened on the High Dais.”

“And what did you tell them?”

“Nothing. I just tried to get rid of them as quickly as possible, though sometimes that was harder than it sounds.”

“I can imagine. Well done, Dian.” It was the first time she had used his shortened name. Somehow, that made him feel more at ease—though only by a thin margin. He still did not know why she had come, or why the twins were with her.

“But what are you doing here?” he asked.

“I thought some familiar company might be in order. You have a long journey ahead of you.”

“You know about that?”

“Naturally,” Emilia replied. “It seems that I will be accompanying you. They’ll need a Clerk to keep the records, a task that was so kindly given to me.”

“We’re coming too,” said Larus with a gentle smile.

“That was my doing,” Emilia said. “The Magi wanted to have a druid along, mostly for their woodcraft and healing lore. Just in case anything goes amiss, I suppose. Larus has already proven himself competent in both disciplines. I thought it might make things easier on you if you had a friend.”

“And Sheeva?” asked Dian.

“You don’t think I’d let him out of my sight, do you?” the other twin replied quietly. She was from the Order of Masons, who were known as much for their short tempers and occasionally surly dispositions as for the great strength they borrowed from their totems. “He’d probably get himself killed and leave me without a brother.”

“It took some doing,” grunted the Clerk. “But eventually, I was able to convince the Magi that a Mason’s strength might prove valuable. So there you have it, Watcher. Two friends to accompany you on your journey. I hope this puts your mind at ease.”

“Yes. Thank you. It will be good to have them along. And you too.” Abruptly, Emilia’s eyes snapped up to him. They reflected something between surprise and suspicion, as though she did not quite trust his words. For some reason, Dian was left with the impression of a cornered fox looking for somewhere to flee, but still poised to snap if anyone came too close.

“That is kind of you to say,” she replied. “But now I must be leaving. There is still much to be done. Please enjoy your some time with your friends, Dian. I will have some tea and berry biscuits sent to you.” With that, the Clerk turned and quickly left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

“What was that all about?” asked Larus.

“I honestly have no idea,” answered Dian. “I’ve only really spoken to her for the first time today, but she does seem a bit strange.”

“This coming from you?” said Sheeva.

“Well played.” Dian grinned. His relationship with her had always been characterized by an ongoing exchange of playful banter. “Can’t get much stranger than the orphan boy who was joined to a raven can you?”

“You’ve got that right. But tell me something, Dian.” Sheeva leaned closer as she spoke. Her eyes narrowed and all traces of mirth vanished from her face. “What’s happening here? What did you possibly see that would make the Magi decide to drag you all the way to the Fellwood?”

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