“My strength and my weakness are twins in the same womb.” Marge Piercy
The blade slid across Zakan’s throat. “Brother,” his mind called out, before consciousness slipped from his grasp as he tumbled dizzily out of this world into the next.
"Brother mine," Javek groaned, startled awake, trembling. “Do not leave me.”
Zakan hit the floor. His forepaw clutched at his throat. It was dry, hot. His eyes popped open. He stared at his fingers, looking for the blood that should have been there.
Javek was shaking him awake. From somewhere above, he saw himself on the zorka skin rug next to his bed.
“You be here Zakan, in the Labyrinth. You be alive.”
“Tej,” Javek called out. “Bring your poultice bag.”
Tej dashed into Zakan’s room, leather pouch in his forepaw. “It be the dream again, be it not?”
Zakan stared into nothingness. The words, ‘consummatum est,’ rang again in his ears, and he pitched forward, half in this world, half in the next, one part of him lingering above himself, watching his twin catch him. Watching Tej crush five baneberries in his fingers and spread them in a a five-pointed star of black paste across his raging hot forehead.
Hearing Tej as if he were under water saying, “Air, fire, water, earth, aether, bring health, power, knowledge, wisdom and happiness through the everlasting grace of Amara.”
Feeling the soothing, cooling, cream and Tej’s healing fingers kneading his spirit back into his body. Like a cold stream pouring itself back into the river, whirling, unable to control the spinning until it stopped by itself.
He drew a long breath. He was once more back to being Zakan, acolyte of the Grand Vizier, in his room inside the sacred mountain, in the arms of his twin and his brother’s lover.
“It be the dream,” he and his brother Javek said at the same time. The dream that would not pass. The dream, again.
“Goddess Amara help us.” They made the sign of the star.
“Aye,” Zakan muttered, struggling to catch his breath. “One more time, the sacrificial blade across the throat. One more time, white hot heat, across my whole body, but not a drop of blood.” He gasped. “And this time I felt the spirit leave my body.” His whole body shook. “For the fifth time, those strange alien words assailed me from the netherworld.”
They all made the sign of the star again.
Zakan broke the pregnant silence. “It was the fifth time it came this moon-cycle,” he said. “Five days to—"
“the new moon-cycle,” Javek finished the sentence with him. “Aye. Five. And today we will cast the fifth intruder this moon-cycle through the Sacred Gate.”
“That be not all,” Zakan added. “This time, I knew for certain I was on Saetana in the dream.”
“That hell-world?” Javek said with a shudder.
“And a voice, half feminine, saying “You know me.”
“Aye, I heard that as well,” Javek said, hugging Zakan to his chest.
“Did you see her?” Zakan asked his twin brother.
“Nay. But this time I felt the hot blade as if it were across my own throat and heard those words you say came for the fifth time. In what alien tongue I canst not imagine.”
“It be a sign, sure. A vision. But of what?” Tej asked.
“Aye. We have asked Bodan,” both twins said simultaneously.
Zakan slowly shook his head. “Bodan knows more than he be willing to tell us. He said the words were of an ancient tongue from another world, agreed it be a sign of sacrifice, and cautioned us to take such forebodings from the spirit world as symbolic rather than specific. But he will say no more.”
“One thing be specific enow for me, brother, I do not want to go to Saetana,” Javek said. “It be accursed. Nothing could be more different from our heaven-world on Saecula. Even though it be our twin planet, Saetana be naught but the evil twin. But this dream suggests that, and the foulest of outcomes.”
“It be my dream, brother, not yours.”
“And you think I could let you go alone? We be twins, and so we love each other more than any other beings.”
Zakan laid his fingers along his brother’s cheek. “Aye. How could we stand to be separated? Whatever comes, we will go together. But how could we go to Saetana, save in a dream state? The Sacred Gate be closed, and only Bodan be able to open it long enow to cast an intruder from the hell-world through it.”
“Aye. But I like not the fact this be the fifth time the dream has come, the fifth intruder we shall cast out, on the fifth day before new moon. Five be a magic number, be it not, Tej?”
Tej did not answer.
Javek frowned. “It be the five points of the sign of the star. The five great elements of existence,” Javek insisted in a sharp tone. “And did I not see you crush five, not more nor less, baneberries?”
“Calm yourself, Javek,” Tej demurred. “No number be magic in and of itself.”
“You think I canst not count? That I only imagine danger looming large before us?”
“I think because you always be the cooler-headed of the two, the less inclined to jump at conclusions, that you would be calmer,” Tej replied.
Javek bared his teeth. “Calm myself? As you have pointed out, I tend to take a more considered approach to life than my twin. And as I share his thoughts, more sometimes than I like, I can see what he imagines this recurring dream and coincidence of numbers means.”
“I think we should go back to bed,” Tej suggested, placing a forepaw on Javek’s shoulder.
Javek shook his forepaw off. “Don’t patronize me. I know Zakan better than anyone else. Maybe better than he does, since I do not live inside his skin, as he does, and can observe him from a point of vantage. I know when he feels called to do something, even though he wants not to do it, naught will keep him from it.”
“When all the signs point in one direction, brother,” Zakan said, “one must see the hand of Amara moving vapor and matter.”
“And what?” Javek asked. “Step off the precipice as if you be dreaming? In the hope that angels will come to keep you from the rocks below? Let me tell you something, brother mine. Today, Bodan will cast another intruder from Saetana through the Sacred Arch. Another grasping fool from a race of beings who covet the jewels that lie underground and be more than willing to lie and cheat to get them. What have the intruders shown us? Let me tell you. The Goddess Amara’s hand be visible here on Saecula, where life be simple and direct. But Saetana be the accursed home of the fiend-God, Kharv. A fouled world ruined by greed and deception. Your dream should tell you only death awaits you there.”