The prattles of Wulfrik’s delusions were merely that, prattles. Or at least, that is what Reuben believed. A woman, delivering his Brother a panacea to spare him. Preposterous. Absolutely preposterous. The only humans that skulked about the woods were the damaged sellswords and their prey, the witch.
A thought of one other sentient roamer then crossed his mind. Something that could easily fiddle with the perturbed minds of the Brothers. A being that urged Wulfrik closer to Obitulem’s Hearth, whose menacing simper cracked through the staunch iron of Reuben’s mind and soul.
The succubus that had afflicted them the moment they pressed into the Woods of Pytham, and perhaps, even before that.
“Wulfrik, I may know what handed you that salve,” Reuben’s face contorted.
“That pained expression of yours...what have you seen Brother?” Wulfrik frowned.
“Before I found you, I was...confronted.”
Wulfrik held his frown for a moment, then pushed a laugh through his diaphragm. “Who would dare to face The Executioner in battle besides myself!?”
“A shadow, one that cannot be harmed by my Sisters.”
The Heart-Eater abruptly set aside his laughter, falling victim to a sudden rush of terror. The color in his face collapsed and faded out, and his grip weakened, causing him to drop the phial on the ground.
“What did it say to you?” Wulfrik muttered under his trembling breath.
“I beg your pardon?”
“What did it say to you?” he spoke up furiously.
“It told me that you had been defeated by the manticores. I did not believe it, but then it said…”
“Spit it out, Brother!” Wulfrik grew impatient.
“This forest, and all of Pytham, will be my playpen.” Reuben’s resolve fell effete at the memory.
Wulfrik seemed even more concerned. At that point, all of the color was flushed from his body. His blue veins rose from his skin, making him appear slender and malnourished. Fear possessed him, stretching arteries into the whites of his eyes. Reuben could not recall a single moment when his Brother experienced any form of horror.
“Wulf, you need to tell me what exactly—”
“No! Simply having knowledge on the shadow will stick you in the ground! Look, he nearly dug me in, and would have, if not by miracle.”
“Miracle? I thought you mentioned a woman?”
“I am not sure what to believe anymore.”
Reuben hid his confusion well as Wulfrik relaxed on the supine. His Brother was much too exhausted to express his fear, and instead, allowed it to gradually spill from his head. It was about time that the two of them rebuilt the foundations of their steeled mental fortitude.
The blaze sat in the center of the quinzhee, between the two Brothers. A calming fire, providing warmth from the frigid wood. The rampant cracking of ice upon the domed ceiling was...oddly therapeutic. Something natural to focus on, a simple battle with the elements, rather than the malignant creatures from the realms beyond.
“The sun was setting before I found you,” Reuben mumbled, in order to hold onto the serenity of the quinzhee. “It must have fallen below the horizon by now.”
Wulfrik popped the cork off of the phial, “Did you bring bandages?”
Reuben scoured his knapsack until he found a roll of gauze. “Let me apply the salve on your forehead.”
Reuben poured out the phial onto his palm, and gently smeared it across Wulfrik’s exposed forehead. After a few moments, Reuben pulled apart the gauze and wrapped it over the wound and around the circumference of his head.
“There, now rest up. When the blizzard clears, we will hunt again. The quicker we find the witch, the quicker we can leave Pytham, for good.”
“Amen to that,” Wulfrik replied, reclined, and closed his eyes as Reuben did the same.
Amidst the eruption of snowfall, you discovered remission by the Hearth.
Reuben’s eyes flickered open. There was nothing in front of him. Wulfrik and the quinzhee disappeared, and so did the entire woodlands. Surrounding him, simply a cadmium white oblivion. An empty vacuum of, oddly enough, solace.
He should have been worried, terrified even. But Reuben’s entire body reposed, denying his anxiety as nothing but a hindrance.
But someone was out there, speaking to him. A temperate omniscience calling out to the Executioner.
He curiously asked, “Who is there?”
In the suffocating darkness, the Executioner, Decider of Fate, followed the way to the fire.
A figure spawned in front of him. Its features were unidentifiable. On one side, it bore clearly feminine curves, and on the other hand, garnered the stocky build of a muscular man like Wulfrik. Two faces appeared on top of each other, like two translucent images stacked upon each other. One was a woman, and the other was a man.
“Reuben Masterson, Judge of Moravi,” the double anatomy spoke in unison. Their lips precisely matched each other, until they split from each other, revealing two people side by side.
“Who are you?” Reuben asked calmly, not stirred by the apparitions.
One of them stepped forward. A naked man with a skull tattoo over his abdomen, “I feast over the Hearth of Moravi. You may know me, as your people do, as Obitulem.”
“And I,” the woman spoke—also naked, with a flame burning across her breasts, “forge over the same Hearth. I am Vigra.”
“Obitulem…” It was unlike what Reuben expected. He was simply a man, or at least, that is how he chose to appear to Reuben as.
“It appears you have sat too close to the fire. You, and your Brother,” Vigra said.
“I cannot distinguish faces after they have melted in the Hearth; any closer and you would have most certainly became a meal for me,” Obitulem added.
“I don’t understand. The Hearth...does it not solely belong to Obitulem?”
“As centuries passed, the truth had been tainted by the ignorance of your kind,” Obitulem scoffed.
“The Hearth does only belong to Obitulem, but it also only belongs to me,” said Vigra.
The two deities collapsed upon each other, merging into their translucent double figure. Reuben sat up, observing their transformation, revering them. He had almost forgotten what he asked them, and felt uneasy about requesting clarification.
“For we,” the two voices merged as well, “are the same being. My name...is Moravi.”
So the Austantans were blinded by their delusions of grandeur. Reuben chuckled when the god announced its name. Moravi, Forger of Life, and Host of Death. How is it that the Austantans remembered only Obitulem, and even He was distorted by Austantis’ ignorance.
“Moravi,” Reuben repeated. His mortal brain could not comprehend the unity and disparity of the deity before him.
Reuben’s legs gave in, and he fell to his knees, staring in awe of Moravi. “How could I be so ignorant?”
The being split into Vigra and Obitulem again. Their division created an uneasy dichotomy in the atmosphere. Vigra, so abundant with life energy, bursting with vivacious aura. And Obitulem, whose core was vacant, using the souls of the Lost to saturate Himself.
“Decider of Fate,” Vigra said, “I will admit: I should have called on to you sooner, as someone who follows Obitulem so closely. My most resolute creation.”
“Whereas your former people believed me to grant them solace beside the hearth,” Obitulem spoke, “I came to you in this form after you fled Austantis. You, Executioner...I recall that fateful day vividly. That ferocious disposition you carried when you offered your father’s soul to the Hearth...you would have not been prepared to receive a blessing from Vigra. But that insatiable craving to satisfy me...that is why I appeared to you in this form.”
“I-I have pleased you?” Reuben’s bottom lip quivered. His spirit danced happily within him.
“Your Brother, the Heart-Eater,” Vigra addressed, ignoring Reuben, “he lives, yes?”
“Y-yes. He is sleeping soundly.”
Obitulem laughed heartily, “The Woods of Pytham have been dangerous these past few years. They will not take your lives so easily…”
The deities melded together again, “...as long as I am watching over you.”
Reuben sighed in relief. Divine intervention spared Wulfrik’s life. Moravi truly was watching over the Brothers, and this placed the Executioner at ease.
“Thank you, O great Moravi. Forger of Life, Host of Death.”
“You are the Decider of Fate, and eventually, you will have to act upon that duty. Either you will forge new life, or continue to plunder souls. The path you select will affect everyone around you, especially the Heart-Eater. As the Judge, you shall choose the sentence of all humanity, including your own.”
Reuben’s eyes widened, “I-I don’t understand.”
“You will, in due time. For now, return to your Brother, and continue hunting your prey.”
Reuben’s eyes felt heavy. Moravi was lulling him to sleep.
Under his final breath, Reuben muttered, “I shall.”