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(Homecoming Part I)

Kaia lagged, engrossed in a sudden fascination with the book that she hadn’t had upon purchase. Rasmus had first been annoyed and slightly nervous about fiddling with it, but when she made a point of opening it just because he told her not to, it affirmed that getting the soul out would probably just be as random as getting it in.

“So what do you think happened last night?” he shouted back to her, the brightness of the day giving him a bit of rare cheer. “You think we accidently said the trigger word?”

She looked up, blinking at him as though she couldn’t hear. “No I do not.”

He studied her over his shoulder for a minute, the girl lagging pretty far behind on the forest trail. When she wouldn’t continue, he added, “Then what happened?”

“I think it’s a will power thing,” she said, not attempting in the least to be heard. “It’s about focusing your energy in the correct manner.”

His stopped. He turned to face her. “So what? You weren’t trying hard enough until your dear old brother was on the brink of death?”

“Exactly.”

“Oh, you think.”

“Well, I don’t know. But out of all your theories, it makes the most sense,” she said, passing him.

“You’re lovely when you’re snide.”

She skipped a little. “Do you think this will be a big town? I hope it will be a big town. I don’t want to deal with some small village for a whole week. People start to recognize you, and that only leads to talking.”

“This is will probably take longer than a week.”

She turned around. “I don’t understand why you think it’s going to be so complicated. You seem to be forgetting that people are very gullible.”

“I’m talking about Henrik.”

“Also not going to be complicated. He’s a traitor, end of story.”

“I don’t believe that.”

She shrugged. “Then what do you think happened?”

“I think there’s something bigger going on here. That’s why the villagers sent for the guild.”

“The word I heard is that they caught a demon.”

“I know.”

“What could that possibly do with Henrik?”

“The man comes back completely mutated, and not a month later do we hear that they’ve found a hellbeast? Something that humans haven’t seen for generations? What? A coincidence?”

“Yes. These people are clearly are of the-sky-is-falling sort,” she shrugged. “They’re blowing things out of proportion, Rasmus. He’s probably some mage who turned at the wrong fork. Annual witch burning.”

“You’re saying they’re making this up? You saw what happened to Henrik. You think that’s a lie?”

“I didn’t see anything. And you didn’t actually see anything either. We don’t know this isn’t just a series of exaggerations. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it. The vampire hunters don’t want us to know something… Probably he had an accidental death or whatever, and they don’t want to deal with it. So they said he was possessed, called him a traitor, and that’s it.”

Rasmus just shook his head, teeth clenched. He mulled over arguments for a moment before huffing. He looked to the map being wrung between his hands.

With a sigh, he said, “You just focus on the scheme then, Kaia. I’ll focus on finding out what they’re hiding.”

“Can do. But I’m going to warn you that this will not take long. I guarantee these people would believe in Armageddon as long as someone thinks to suggest it. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had hell break loose out here once a week normally.”

“It’s not the issue of believing a lich is around, it’s the issue of making them think it’s their problem. And, the little supplies we have left, and the complete lack of gunpowder and trinkets, we have very little ways of being at all convinc—” He stopped.

“We do have a time limit. The guild will get here sometime soon. I mean, we weren’t that far ahead of the bastards when we left them back at the swamps.” She thought. “Although, maybe they died and we don’t have to worry about it.”

Rasmus was looking about, frozen in place.

“But, because of what they said about this town, I’m not so worried. I’m hoping that maybe the problem really is real, and we won’t have to come up with anything. There really is a demon. We get to see something weird after all this way.” She noticed her brother, stopping and eyeing him before adding, “Even if they’ve lived here all their lives without incident, I image they still jump at the sound of every creak in the house,” she said over her shoulder. “I mean, I do, even when I’m in civilization.” She frowned and thought. “Or especially when I’m in civilization.”

But he wasn’t continuing. Kaia’s face contorted. “Rasmus?”

“Have we been here before?”

“What?”

Taking a thorough look around, he surveyed the area. “I think I recognize this place.”

She glanced about as well before staring at him. “It’s trees, Rasmus.”

“No,” he said. “There’s something very familiar.”

She frowned. “Because they’re trees. They all look exactly the same.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Is that racist?” she mulled.

He took a slow step off the path.

“I mean, they probably would look different if I was a tree.”

Rasmus considered.

“And honestly, every snowflake may be unique, but that makes it even harder to remember any of them.”

He glanced back over his shoulder, taking a good glance down the road.

Kaia studied him before ringing the book in her hands and saying, “How much money do we have?”

“Why?” he asked, not looking at her.

“Can we sleep in an actual inn? I hate those Wanderer Houses.”

He smiled at her. “I think last night’s was the last Wanderer’s House we’re going to see. We’re too close to the city. So unless you were expecting to go back to it…”

He threw up his hands, walking towards her. “You’re the cheapskate here. Not me.” Rasmus put his arm around his sister and they continued on. “Yes, we can stay in an inn. We have plenty of money to stay afloat for a while. That haunting scam gave us a good amount to tied us over.”

“How much?”

“None of your business,” he said.

“It’s a little of my business.”

“You told me to keep track, I’m keeping track. Just trust me.”

“How can I trust you? You’re constantly wasting our supplies!”

He pulled away in exaggerated disgust. “Excuse me? Who traded the Pixie Lantern for a book?”

“The lantern was useless—”

“It wouldn’t have been useless last night.”

“And that book allows me to look up anything I want about firelight imps. And, oh, yeah, a flashing blinking light. We could have given the fairy a seizure and that would have been that.”

“Who cares about firelight imps?”

“That’s what you said about jellyfish and look where that got you.”

“Even if I had known what would happen, I still couldn’t have avoided that thing. Besides you’re the one who pushed me in.” He looked around then abruptly stopped.

“What?” she demanded, exasperated.

“Alright, Kaia, I swear we’ve been here before.”

She matched his glances and then shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Where are we?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t known since the map burned up.”

She watched as her pale brother went paler, a sudden fixation with his hair showing his nervous habit. He began to search about frantically.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We can’t do another town repeat, Kaia!” he said. “We barely got out with our reputations last time.”

The girl opened her mouth, looking for something to say. She shut it.

“Especially with the guild hot on our tail. We get caught there, that’s bad. We get caught there having lied to the peasants before? That’s worse.”

“We can’t turn back now, can we?” she insisted. “We’re almost out of food, and we are completely depleted in water and candle sticks. And we don’t really have any other hint to follow. This is the one piece of information we got out of that damn scheme. We need to use it.”

He fiddled with his lips, his fingers on his chin.

“Rasmus!” she said. “I’m not sleeping in the dark! That dinky stub you still have won’t even light up I bet, and I’ll be damned if I get arrested for another bonfire.”

“Kaia,” he said, “I don’t feel good about this place.”

She paused, sensing her emotions. “Do you think we’ve entered into an aura?”

“No. I just…”

His search landed on his sister’s face. Suddenly, he quieted and the face of nerves left him. He smiled.

“Alright,” he said diplomatically. “It’s fine. I mean… I’m probably just…” he shook his head. “If we get near town and it’s somewhere we’ve been in the last few months, you’ll just put on your wig and get some supplies and we’ll be on our way. Alright?”

“That thing doesn’t even look real anymore,” she muttered.

He clapped his hand onto her back. “And if it isn’t a place we’ve been, then we shall dine like kings.”

“You promise?”

“Well, we’ll have to if we want to convince them we’re noble vampire hunters.”

She shoved him off. “Oh that’s just stupid.”

“Sorry,” he said. “You’ve already agreed.”

“Oh no. You said that we were just going establish ourselves as more successful people in our line of work.”

“Vampire hunting is our line of work.”

“I don’t want to be pretentious.”

“Just because you give yourself a title does not mean that you are pretentious.”

“Plus, if we’re vampire hunters, what would we be doing fighting a lich?”

“Most people can’t tell the difference.”

“Assuming everyone’s stupid only leads to stupid mistakes. No matter how likely it is.”

“Hey, you’re the one who said you wanted to make up a vampire attack.”

“Yeah, but that was because I hate vampire slayers and because I wanted to establish their redundancy. And because I’ve never actually seen a vampire before.” She paused. “If we’re going to pretend that we’re of the pretentious asshole league, why can’t we say we’re vampire hunting? Chasing the namesake and not an unknown creature?”

“Because if we don’t succeed before the hunters get there, we’ll be arrested for lying and vigilantism.”

They kept moving, a sudden bout of a thousand memories following them.

“You know what I really hate about vampire hunters though?” she said. “They never really do what they set out to do. Half the time, they make these things up.”

He just looked at her.

She smiled back. “Hey, everything we say is completely true. It just isn’t true for them.”

“Listen. If one day I could get into that guild and collect the title and the prestige, I would not turn it down for love. Money maybe, but only a lot. That’s what we wanted to do when we first started, wasn’t it?”

“Well, Henrik ruined it for me.”

He sighed, looking down. He went to rub her shoulders.

She shifted away. “My back hurts.”

“That means the scratches are healing.”

They kept walking. She considered.

“That was quick.”

He just shrugged.

The long path was open with only a few left over trees from the forest to block the path of the sun and wind. Luckily, it was a warm day, odd for fall, but the sky still shone bright and the air at most reached a breeze, and all the leaves and grass were green and lush, and the siblings had begun to doubt winter was ever coming at all that year.

Of course, Kaia insisted that if they went up into the mountains, the climate would change immediately, but that was only an educated bet based around the principle of bad luck, considering she had no idea where they were. They had once asked a shepherd the name of those mountains, but they received such a look that neither felt like asking again.

Kaia watched her brother for a while, and he kept an eye on the scenery. They walked for a good long time, though it was not near their usual duration. There was a great deal more ease about it than normal—being on a road, being a cool day, being that their destination was close and that when they decided to stop was not when they were too tired to walk, but in actually arriving where they wanted to be. The whole day felt almost akin to a casual stroll.

It wasn’t until they found the town’s sign that everything went wrong. Rasmus blacked out.

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Homecoming Part II











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