Reuben rummaged through the tinderbox, flailing his hand around it. The sunset swept by quickly, leaving the Brothers with obscured vision in a black night. Reuben finally found a single match and struck the side of the tinderbox, creating a faint ember. It satisfied the kindling, erupting the bonfire into a magnificent hearth.
“There,” said Reuben, “That should suffice for the night.”
“A fine arsonist, you make,” Wulfrik remarked, reclined beside the blaze, his cynosure being the countless celestial bodies glistening over him.
“Admiring the constellations?” Reuben exerted a subtle chuckle.
“Aye, Haqqa’s wings are engraved in the night sky. Under the Cosmos is a brilliant site for prayer.”
“Ha! Your gods and their mundane placards. ‘Pray to the stars, or have thine heads,’” Reuben mocked.
“As if Obitulem would allow Himself to miss a meal because of your irreverence.”
Reuben ignored Wulfrik’s criticism, but Wulfrik continued. “Why do you sacrifice to Obitulem?” The question rolled off its tongue as if it was caught between his teeth for ages. A piece of rotted vegetable.
“You’re mighty curious this evening,” muttered Reuben.
“Am I not allowed to be? After all, I revealed my courtship with a witch after you insisted upon it. Go on, it is your turn to concede to my inquiries, as I did with you.”
Reuben sighed, “Fine, but if you interrupt me, you will swallow my daggers.”
“Oh, Reuben. You are such a tease,” laughed Wulfrik.
“Anyways,” Reuben rolled his eyes, “as you know, I was born into the wealthy Masterson household. My father was a politician, and my mother nurtured me ever since I was young. I abhorred those brief (though seemingly endless) sojourns he made to our residence, and even more did I despise his moot practices. His presence rendered me aloof, which was cause for concern. If I did not speak, what politician would I make when the time came to inherit the family business?
Whenever he was off campaigning—which, mind you, was a majority of my life—I took up the lance. My mother sponsored the endeavor, as she too scorned her husband’s vocation. I trained in secret, in a large alleyway deep within the underbelly of Yeagnir, Austantis’ capital. My mother and I knew he would never discover our secret; his pompous disposition became his tragic flaw.”
“How did he find out then?” asked Wulfrik.
“He grew wiser. Austantis is run by a pseudo-democracy. The king is selected by the citizens from a band of Audits: politicians who ‘listen to the pleas of the people.’ Never will you see a larger group of bombastic middle-aged men in your life. I am skeptical that any of them set foot onto an unkempt lawn or cracked marble.”
“Let me guess,” Wulfrik interrupted, “Your father solicited the lower class for votes.”
“Precisely. He came across my training grounds while stumbling through Lower Yeagnir, and disowned me for ‘associating with the scum of the Earth.’ A mighty despot he would have made. His prerogative was simply to rule over the weary.
Sadly, his discovery was inopportune. Many of the townsmen congregated around him. They cursed him, slandered him, and best of all, embarrassed him. To see him dejected and outcasted slapped a devilish smile across my face.
I would have left him be, too. I would have packed my belonging, my lance and my daggers, and exiled myself merrily. That was until he decided to abuse my mother.
I vividly remember the screaming from the staircase that led to my room. My mother must have confessed to her treachery, infuriating my father. She did not deserve that wretch, and I did not want to hear her suffer anymore. So I descended the stairs, daggers in hand, and slit my father’s throat. A lovely X was carved into his neck. My mother was relieved.”
“Then how did your father’s personal guard find out?”
“My mother and I devised a coup. My father’s guard remained at the Masterson’s villa while he left to visit Lower Yeagnir. His strategy was to walk the decrepit roads without bodyguards, to show that he would open up to the people. Their orders were taken by my mother temporarily.
To protect her reputation, we removed any suspicion of conspiracy, by telling the guard I murdered my father. My mother pretended to fear for her life, and sent the guard after me to feign my treason. She knew I had finished mastering the lance, and that all of my father’s men were inexperienced sellswords looking for some quick coin. There were at a disadvantage from the start.
“How many men?”
“Fourty-five: the equivalent of a small battalion. Had they been adroit, or even competent, my younger self would not have stood a chance.”
“That still does not answer my question from before. How did you learn of Obitulem?”
“I am getting to that. Obitulem is praised heavily by Austantis. To them, he is regarded as the ‘Guardian of the Dead.’ Their prayers would be heard by Obitulem, granting their beloved safe passage to sit by Obitulem’s Hearth. There, they would live a peaceful afterlife, comforted by the warm flames of his Hearth.
They, however, were wrong. I learned the truth.”
“And how did you find out?”
“Before I relocated to Roktar, Obitulem appeared to me via numinous experience, a divine intervention, if you will. There, He told me the truth.
“His hearth is not a warm blaze, but a conflagration, one that consumes all the souls offered to Him. Obitulem called upon me to gather souls for Him, to kill for Him.
My father became the first sacrifice. I went to the Masterson’s tomb, and dug up my father’s corpse. Obitulem told me that my father’s soul never passed, that it wandered around the obituary, but could not fully separate from his body. So I impaled his carcass with a spare lance, and left him in the midst of Upper Yeagnir, for the aristocrats and megalomaniacs to take notice.
Then I returned to Lower Yeagnir, and I recited the prayer He taught me:
O great Obitulem, deity of death,
who steals the souls from the weary’s breath:
accept my plentiful sacrifice, a lamb
to burn in the Hearth of the Damned.
Let this soul satiate thee
as it begs and pleas
for it to be free.
Enjoy your meal,
Does that satisfy your question?”
“Yes, it does. Was that so hard?” jested Wulfrik.
“Shut your damn mouth and go to sleep. In case you forgot, we are on the hunt.”
“Yes, father,” chuckled Wulfrik.