September 11, 2003
Blood Brothers by Zelgaddis
I have never hurt so much in my life.
"You're awake! I was starting to worry!"
Or have I?
"Gulacon, come quick!"
I don't know...
"Gula! He's awake!"
And who is she? I wish she'd stop screaming. She looks down at me with a grim smile. It is the kind of grim smile that should have told me not to look myself over.
I wish I hadn't. It's going to give me nightmares. She tries to stop me, I think, but she can't find any way to restrain me without making it hurt even worse. Gods, is all that blood mine? Pain throbs through my chest. My arms and legs ignite in a fiery, pulsing sensation. I've never seen a compound fracture before. I hope I never see another again. Torn flesh... skin ripped away by my own bone. Slashes cover my face... I think. I can't move my arms to check, but from the feel of it, there are plenty. The bones in my arms and legs are splintered completely, from the looks of it. I see a few shards of bone embedded in my calf. I can't really see anything else... a veil of darkness encompasses my peripheral vision. I gaze through pinpricks down to my chest. Everything I expect to see is there. Torn flesh, shattered ribs, bite marks.
Gulacon approaches and looks down at me with a worried smile. Hesitantly hopeful, no doubt. I know he's related to me, but I really don't know how. Fourth cousin, maybe? Regardless, his presence doesn't surprise me one bit. Whatever he is to me genealogically, Gulacon is, and has always been, a brother to me.
"Zelcon," he says.
I look up at him through those pinpricks. He's trying to gauge my chances of survival, I guess. He's stone-faced. It's the first time I haven't been able to read him since, gods, childhood.
"What... happened to me?"
Gulacon's eyes open wide, and his jaw nearly drops. I can see that he's trying to restrain himself, and it's not really working. I guess I'd be surprised too, if he forgot how he managed to get himself in a condition like this.
"You really don't know?"
"No! I guess I don't, okay?" I instantly regret snapping at my brother, the man who stood worriedly by my bedside while I lay comatose. How long was I out, anyway?
"You-" He pauses. "We were in a town, trying to join up with a group fighting off a dragon when it landed unexpectedly in front of us. I called for help, but no one got there in time. He tore into you, grabbed you, carried you off, and dropped you from up in the air. I hit him with everything I had, but-"
His storytelling grows more and more intense as he recounts the events. His voice achieves a fevered crescendo, before I cut him off
"Gulacon, it's okay! I'm alive, aren't I?"
He looks at me sadly. "I just wish I could have done mor-"
A sickly wave ripples through my body as I finish my sentence. I feel my blood-engorged stomach churn as I frantically attempt to roll over and vomit. I quickly realize this feat is much more challenging than I had first thought, given my current state. I emit an involuntary gagging sound as blood rushes up my throat, bubbling outward through my limp mouth.
Gulacon quickly rolls me over, allowing the crimson life to spew out and saturate the bed I'm on. As the last of it dribbles down my chin, I can't help but smile through the stabbing pain where Gula is clutching me. He's the only one not afraid to hurt me to save my life.
And it hurts.
"I'm done!" I shriek. "Let go! Let go!"
I gasp painfully, wincing as I roll onto my back. I realize that I have even more wounds than I first thought.
"How long was I out?"
"Not as long as you probably think," the woman says. "I was passing through the town when I saw you. At first, I thought you were just another casualty, but your body hadn't become one with the earth yet. I was curious, so I took another look and brought you back here. Gulacon told me who you were, and thought you had to be dead. He told me he saw it himself." She smiles at my brother, "I wish you could have seen his face. He was so shocked!"
I smile, but something hits me. "Why haven't you healed me yet?"
She looks hurt at my question and pauses a few seconds before she answers, considering her reply before she gives it. "Gulacon told me he wanted to see you wake up."
Another wave of nausea rolls through my chest. "Great surprise, but do you mind?"
She smiles and slowly, painstakingly, guides her hands over my chest before finally finding a spot. I appreciate the consideration, but I would much rather not have to endure this agony a second longer. A warm glow radiates outward from her palms.
My wounds come alive, basking in the light, dancing, chaotically weaving my flesh together and making it whole again, and time seems to flow backward as blood oozes back into the wound. Bone slowly regrows before my eyes, and my skin expels the shattered pieces, favoring regrowth to reuniting with the old and frail remains.
Minutes elapse, and when I am whole again, I want nothing more than to sleep. Thought my mind races with questions, my vision blurs and my eyes flutter. The pinpricks give way to nothingness, and I fall unconscious.
"I dreamt something funny that night," I said to Gulacon. I looked and realized how old he was. How frail and slight. It worried me. He looked as if he'd been this way a long time. "And I don't remember what it was. But I remember when I woke up it changed me."
He looked at me sadly.
"What is it?" I said as I drew closer, genuinely concerned.
"You haven't forgotten about me, have you?"
"You haven't... forgotten?"
"How could I forget my brother?"
He sighed. "People forget."
"I don't," I said as I looked at him. I put on a comforting face, but I knew that when he got like this, it was always best to just let him work it out himself. I don't know why I even bothered trying to help at all, because it never worked in the past. Maybe I had forgotten just a little bit. "You're my brother and I love you. I know you did everything you could to save me that day."
"I did do everything I could to save us."
"And you must have done something right! See, here we are?"
"I really thought you were dead."
I couldn't hold that face any longer. It hurt me, that face. What I really wanted to do was snap at him. Get angry. Hurt him. Why couldn't he have endured that pain? I could have saved him.
Well, maybe not. But at least we would have died together. We wouldn't have to live like this.
Like what? Where did we go wrong?
That woman who saved me walked into the room. Where were we, anyway? "Sorry about all this. Maybe it would have been better if you died."
I wanted to be shocked, but I knew she was right. "Why?" I asked, suspecting I already knew the answer.
This angered her. "Don't ask stupid questions. If you had just died honorably, you wouldn't have done this to my husband!"
"Done what? When did you get married? Who are you, anyway?"
Gulacon looked at me with eyes staring into my soul. It wrenched my gut, and at that moment, I wished I had died. "It's a nightmare for me, you know?"
I didn't know. "Yeah."
"Isn't it funny? Isn't it funny, how everything works out?"
"Isn't it funny, how in dreams, everything works out?"
And then I woke up.
I wake up to that same old sick feeling. At least I can move again. Being trapped in my own body scares me, makes me think of death, of what I never really thought lied beyond. I grow worried for no real reason at all. All my life I have feared death. All my life I have clung to my brother to protect me from the grave. He was always stronger than me, always knowing what to do, always had some crazy plan to get us out of anything. Now, I can't help but think of him as weak. I try to push the thought away, but it sneaks back quicker than I can dismiss it again. I feel that I'm better than him.
No. That's not possible.
I roll out of bed and get to my feet, collapsing unceremoniously to the hard wooden floor. I land on my elbows, from where, only yesterday, bone had gruesomely protruded. It's like being in bed again, that same agonizing tearing, stabbing, broken pain, all over again.
As I fall down, I cannot help but think about being back there with that dragon. I swear that I saw fangs as I went down. I realize that my heart was beating out of my chest the whole time, and is only now subsiding. As I fell, I could not help but feel alone.
This time, the pain in my arms goes away without magic, and I slowly get to my feet. I lean heavily on the bed. The woman runs into the room, startled. "Are you okay? Here, let me-"
"I'm fine," I reply. I feel bad about snapping at her, but still... I'm a little upset about her leaving me in agony on the bed like that, letting me experience death firsthand, and leaving me a living corpse for longer than I had to be.
"Sorry," we say together. We look into each other's eyes and smile. It's the first time I've seen her eyes. They're very pretty. Blue. No other color but blue. Blue?
The dragon was blue.
She speaks, snapping me back into reality, "I fixed you something to eat. It's cold, though. I thought you were going to wake up this morning."
Suddenly I realize it's dark out. "It's... not morning."
She laughs. "No, it's not morning. And I doubt you want breakfast. Here, I'll-"
"It's fine, I'll have breakfast." I say with a smile.
"You said he was shocked to hear I was alive, right?" I say, shoveling in a spoonful of eggs.
"Oh, very," she says from the stove, hurriedly fixing me thirds.
"You didn't say relieved."
She pauses. She doesn't say anything for a long time. "Of course! He was just so shocked. I just didn't see the relief as much."
I nod. "Oh. Listen, I'm sorry about being sort of a bastard since we met. I really do appreciate you saving my life." Suddenly that dream comes back to me. No, I am grateful. I would never want to be dead. I would never want to be a prisoner of nothingness. I could never imagine death until yesterday. It's amazing how one can never plan for these things. It's amazing how no one lives forever. How, as much as I appreciate her saving my life, it's meaningless, because she can't save me forever. There's an eternity out there that will outlive me. There's a world that doesn't need me, and yet here I am, temporal as that existence may be. But that's not it, is it? That's not why I'm so depressed about life all of a sudden, is it?
I look up from my empty plate. "Where is he? Gulacon?"
She scoops some eggs from the pan onto my plate. "Don't know. He said he had a lot to think about, so he went out. He ought to be back by now. He left this morning."
Nothing had bothered him like this before. Suddenly, I cannot help but worry.
"I'm Allura, by the way."
"Hm? Oh," I laugh. "I'm Zel- you know that already."
She smiles. "Yes, I do. Though I wish we could have met under better circumstances."
I nod. "Why, uh, am I here, anyway?"
"Because I broug- oh, ha! I guess Gula hasn't told you! We're going to be married!"
I wasn't surprised. I already know. The dream, right?
No. Gula told me. When? All I remember is... "I have someone live for." I guess that's her.
"Oh!" I play along. "Congratulations! When are you two-"
She smiles. "Soon!"
I hear the door open in the other room, and I know it's Gulacon. He pokes his head into the kitchen, and instantly all I can see is his bright smile. "Is my beloved fianceť making supper fo- Zel!"
I wave and get up, stepping toward him. We meet in the doorway, and I throw my arms around him. His embrace is stronger than mine, and it isn't just the near-death experience. It's always stronger.
"Zel," he says. "You had me so worried. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry-"
My heart sinks into the pit my stomach as I'm suddenly there again. All I can hear is my brother, but I feel myself falling. Gulacon's embrace is too much.
I try to scream, but his arms are fangs, pinching my body in half. It's already too late. I feel blood rushing outward as the dragon shakes me in its mouth, smashing my struggling, agonized form into the ground, against buildings.
And I see my brother's back.
I stood there, quivering in the doorframe for a long time. Gulacon stands near Allura and holds her tightly. "Thank you for saving him. Thank you for saving my brother."
It is hard getting back to sleep after having only been awake a couple hours, so I roll out of bed and walk a bit. I leave the house and begin down the Medievian streets.
I smile as I watch the city life. Here I am, back from the dead. I remember thinking, as I first saw that cruel beast land before me, that it was a pity I'd never see another living person. It's strange that I took that for granted when I finally awoke in that bed, a mangled mess. Death makes strange regrets, and a second chance at life makes you forget.
After about an hour, I exhaust myself enough to try and squeeze a few hours sleep out of the night. I pause outside Allura's bedroom window. She and Gula are talking. I lean in closer, almost ashamed of myself for spying on my own brother like this.
"You don't understand," Gulacon says. "I'm not the guy you or he think I am!"
"But why can't you be?"
"I'm just not, okay? I'm sick of being the death-defier. I'm sick of always having to bail others out. At that moment, I saw him, and I was looking at a loser."
"How can you say that?"
"Look, I don't have to stand here on trial like this!"
"Last I checked, murder was a triable offense!"
"Will you just shut up and listen to me? Please? I love you! I care about you! Would you have preferred me dead? Is that what you want?"
"Because it sure sounds like-"
"No! That's not it. I just can't understand. You've always risked your life for him before."
"It's easy to defy death when you've got nothing to live for! Okay? I told you I love you because I meant it. You're worth killing for. You're worth killing my own brother for."
My entire body burns. It seethes, but not with anger. Not with sorrow, or hate, nor with any other emotion I'd ever felt. A knot begins to form in my throat. I can't do anything I want to. I can't scream, or cry... I can't even move. I lean against the house on rubbery legs, my throat aching. I want to cry, but I can't find the tears. I can't find the will to even be. I wish I'd never been born. Nothing is worth this.
"You have to understand," Gulacon begins again. "It was him or me. And I had something to live for: love. What did he have? The thrill of the hunt? Get real. When it comes down to it, I just did what I had to do."
"Left him to die?"
"Yes! I don't regret what I did. You wouldn't know he was gone or even care if he hadn't lived! You're a hypocrite for even trying to believe that you would have preferred if I had stayed there with him. You're happy I'm alive, right?"
"I said yes."
"You believe it, don't you?"
"And I can't let anyone else know what I just told you. That I left him. I have a very powerful family. Loyalty is everything. You have to understand. Please. If they were to ever find out..."
"Don't worry, I won't tell."
"But he might!"
There is a long pause. I can feel them staring each other down, and the electricity in the air. I feel Allura looking at him, knowing what he's about to say. Knowing what she is about to say will not change what he will ultimately tell her. I can feel that she knows what he's saying is true, feel her knowing what he will ask her to do. I feel her decide to say it anyway.
"He doesn't remember what happened."
"But he will!"
"You don't know that."
"I do. Lost memories do return, if one waits long enough. Where will we be, then, when he does tell?"
"What if you were to admit to him what you did? Maybe..."
"Allura, I've known him my whole life. He wouldn't like to confess this to the family, but he would. He knows he has to. The family won't stand for traitors, or cowards, or... Look, as soon as his memory returns, he'll spill his guts."
He was right.
"So what should we do? Kill him?"
"This is crazy, this whole thing!" Allura bursts out, almost in tears.
"Look, if Zel tells, the whole family will come after me. Even if I live, we won't have anything! Is that how you want to live your life? Married to some deadbeat loser, in hiding, barely getting by?
"...But kill him?"
"It's the only way. Don't worry, I've got everything under control."
They don't say any more.
I sat outside for hours, and when I finally come in the house, I can't sleep.
Gulacon shakes me. The sun is up. It's warm out. It is, by all measures, a good day. It will be the perfect day, as soon as I extract revenge by spilling my brother's blood as he so freely did mine.
"C'mon, Zel! Get up!" His voice is cheerful given what he's about to do. I'm leaving to go get things ready for something that will get our minds off of everything!"
This isn't my brother. My brother would never have me forget the past. He would have me hold onto it, embrace the hurt. Have me realize how close to death I came. Have me realize how precious it is to just live. But maybe that was all a lie, too.
"Meet me at Trellor in an hour, don't be late! Oh, and bring a horse!"
Bring a horse?
And with that, he slips out of the house. Behind me, I hear Allura enter the room from her bedroom. "Zel."
I don't want to face her. How can I, now that I know that she, who saved my life, is now a part of a plot to end it?
"What?" I reply gruffly.
She grabs my shoulder gently and turns me around. "Don't go. He's going to kill you. He wants me to help, but I can't. If you go, I swear I'll do it. I don't want to be a part of this, but I love him. I intend to spend the rest of my life with him. If doing that means ending your life, I will."
"So that's it, then."
"No. You have an hour. You can be on the other side of the continent by then. Go to Mystara, or Riverton... start a new life."
"So you can be happy?"
"I'm trying to help you!"
I stare at her coldly. "I don't want your help. That you can stand here and be a party to his murder tells me that much."
"I didn't want to be involved, but I have no choice."
"There's always a choice! And I choose to be at Trellor in one hour."
Neither of us spoke again until we got to Trellor.
Gulacon smiles at me from his horse. "Glad to see you decided to show up! You're late, you know."
I try as best I can not to kill him right there. It's hard. Harder than finding a way to hold on after being mauled by a dragon. Harder than hearing your own brother just used you to save his own miserable life.
No, maybe not that hard.
"Where are we headed?" I ask.
"Through the Dark Woods to Naera Mae's trading post. I've heard they're buying Trellor's goods for upwards of three million gold coins, and I'm just itching to get in on that."
I smiled. I genuinely smiled. Maybe my brother is still in there, somewhere. He always was a slave to money.
No. I can't think like this. I can't think he's human. He didn't even grant me that much. I'll show him what his loser of a brother can do. I'll show him that this loser can succeed where he failed.
We stand at the brink of the portal. It has been a rather long journey. At least, it felt like it. Laughing and joking around with Gulacon, pretending like it was old times. Pretending like something I know happened didn't happen... It's enough to drive one crazy.
"After you." Gulacon says with a sweeping gesture of his arm.
I nod, and begin to trot my horse toward the portal. Slowly, painfully, I reach for my creese of Chiroptera. As my hand almost reaches the hilt, I hear the metallic slide of Gulacon's Rutul coming from its holster. I pull my creese free and jerk my horse around to face my former brother. I slash at him quickly, attempting to draw my second creese with my free hand, when I am jarred from my horse by a painful blow to the back of my head.
My body collides with the earth below. I hit the ground head first. My body corkscrews into the dirt. I roll to one side and see Allura standing over me, brandishing her mace. Her face isn't the visage of hate I expect to see. It is one of remorse.
I slowly get to my feet. I have to lean on my unsteady horse, my hand limply clinging to the creese. Gulacon's body slams into mine as he leaps from his mount, snaking his arm menacingly around my throat. He pulls my head to one side as I wrestle with his other arm that wields the cruel Rutul. I'm too weak. I've always been too weak.
"I'm sorry." Gulacon hisses into my ear.
"Like hell!" I manage to gasp out.
Gula's grip loosens, I pull myself free from his limp hold in time to see him slump to the ground. Allura stands over him, sobbing. I quickly tighten my grip on my creese, and plunge it deeply into his chest and abdomen several times. The first stab is difficult. He struggles against my strength, my hate, my bloodlust, my thirst for revenge. I struggle with my guilty conscience, but with each downward stroke, my rage builds. The flesh gives easier, the struggling subsides, the anguished cries grow more faint.
And then I stop.
I hold my creese in both hands above my head. The blade shakes nervously in my grip, as I become aware of what I'm doing.
I realize that I'm thinking the wrong things. What was revenge? What was hate? I don't care about those things. I'm not going to be here forever. All I can ever hope to do is see the beauty of life, and to live.
"Get out of here." I say, as I rummage through my bag of holding and produce a potion of menthol. I nonchalantly toss the vial to him.
He stares up at me, an expression of fear, confusion, sadness... all in one. Who was I to do this? Who was I to hold life and death in my hands? At least he killed, or intended to, for something decent. Something important. Something worth killing for.
I manage to summon the words to my quivering lips, "Get out of here!"
I wave my creese in his face. "Go!"
"I love you, Zel. I always did. I don't want you to-"
"I love you, too. But I don't want to see you right now. I want you to get out of here. If in one week, you haven't written the family and told them the whole story, I will tell them. I can assure you they'd much rather hear it from you. After that, this is out of my hands."
"I'm sorry." Gulacon quaffs the potion and is gone. Allura approaches me, rests her hand on my shoulder.
"Go to him, Allura. He needs you now. But promise me that, if you stay with him, you'll always be good to him."
We stand silent for a long time.
"Why'd you let him go?" she asks.
"Why'd you help me?" I reply.
"You didn't deserve to die."
"Neither did he."
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