THE FINAL ARTIFACT WAS IN PLACE. OUR LORD AND MASTER, MY FATHER, HAD RISEN.
Six years ago, we had been discovered by the Queen’s guard. They stormed our base, burning it to the ground. Many of our friends perished among the fire and all of the progress we had made went up in smoke.
We found sanctuary in a cave that night. All that remained was myself, Father, and my sister, Artemis. My twin. Our mother had died sixteen years ago after given birth to us.
While gathered around the fire, Father looked me in the eye and spoke to me for the first time since I was a child.
“I need you.”
His voice rasped as he spoke to me. It pained him to address me so sensitively.
Father let me of my hand and limped to the entrance of the cave. He leaned up against the stone and gazed at the puddles that rippled with each raindrop. I looked over to Artemis for guidance. She had a curious look on her face, but her lax posture told me to not question him.
We must be grateful after all.
That morning we awoke to find Father missing. Yet, where he laid down for his slumber there was a frog, sitting still as a statue on his pillow. I tried to usher the thing away but it stared at me as if it knew me, as if it demanded something from me.
Henry had warned us about this. There would be a time when everything would be lost, when our bid to take command of the kingdom would be adrift, and when all of Father’s power would be drained away. Father had indeed used much of his magic trying to stave off the Queen’s men but it wasn’t enough. We lost nearly everyone. Everyone except us.
Henry had told me that it was possible for Father to regain his power if he were to go into a hibernation state. But for him to be awoken from it, we would need to locate the Seven Artifacts placed around the globe. Of course, with an entire army at his disposal, this would be no problem. But everyone was dead.
Father had never told us anything. Yet there he was, lying on the ground as a run-of-the-mill frog, staring into my soul. I could have killed him if I wanted to. Crushed him in my hand and walked away from this whole thing, started a new life, but Artemis and I were determined to do this. Not just for him, but for the world.
It was his world to rule. That’s why we gathered for him.
So we left him behind in the cave and began our quest to find the Seven Artifacts. Nothing else mattered to us but bringing them back to him. We climbed mountains, soared through the skies, invaded kingdoms, broke into temples, dug up graves, and sailed the ocean blue. There were no clues to to go off of, no legends we had heard of that gave us the slightest hint. The best we could muster was to try everything. Often we would spend months climbing a single mountain just to find nothing at the peak.
While exploring the world, I wondered what it would be like under the gaze of one soul. The Queen’s rule was disjointed, many of her nations living apart from each other, uninterested in the affairs of the other Kingdoms. But if everything were to be united, it would be a wonderful world. That was Father’s mission. To bring them all together. Under his rule.
One night, while enjoying a stay in a jail cell, our “last night” according to the guards for they planned on executing us the next day, a joke really, I looked over to Artemis. There was a massive gash running across her forehead. She had to kill a priest a week prior; it had to be done so we could escape a temple unnoticed. Unfortunately, he was much more powerful than we had anticipated and he nearly killed the two of us.
Artemis took the brunt of his enchantments so that I may get closer to him. Unfortunately, he sensed this and slashed at her head. Thinking her dead, he turned to me and tried to kill me with his radiant powers, but of course, he had vastly underestimated my sister and she killed him before he could make any more noise.
I pulled out the only Artifact we had procured so far, a silver locket with an elephant painted on the inside, from underneath my cloak and held it up to Artemis. Her eyes looked up from her lap and over to me, shifting from boredom to intrigue.
“What is it, sister?” she asked me.
“I don’t know if this is the right course,” I said. “I don’t know if Father should be allowed to rule the kingdom. I think…it might do more harm than good.”
She looked at me for a long time. Sometimes, her gaze reminded me of Father’s. I am sure I did it to her too.
“We killed someone, Miriam,” Artemis said to me coldly. “I don’t know—if we can come back from that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said glumly, ashamed that I had brought it up, stuffing the Artifact away.
“Don’t be,” Artemis smiled. “Please don’t be.”
We didn’t kill anyone else after that day.
Of course, this lead to many more prison stays and “executions.” Artemis lost her right hand in a battle with a squad of vicious Aarakocras in the Battle at Greyhawk Rock. I lost my hearing in one ear from a Warlock at The Siege of Restonford, in addition to needing to walk with a limp due to an irate innkeeper (displeased with our unpaid lodgings) who bumped into us while we were scouting for The Heist at Estreya Castle.
We battled so many people, broke so many hearts, and damaged so many properties. We lied. We cheated. We stole food from poor merchants so that we could survive. We befriended people just so they could give us information. I had forgotten who I used to be. All I could remember was Miriam the Fearless.
Father would be proud though, I’m sure. This is what he had always wanted from us, and I understood why he had scorned us the way he did when we were children. We had no right being in his army of Followers. But blood was important to him. As was ascension. He needed us, and we could not turn down his call.
Yet, while securing the Fifth Artifact, we were captured by a group of Ancient Ones, ones that had used magic to transcend the mortality of man. They questioned us, torturing us, trying to uncover who we were working for, why we were trying to obtain the Artifacts.
I couldn’t bear to say Father’s name. I was ashamed, ashamed of this crusade we lead. We were still children.
If he knew this, if he knew my shame, if he knew that we did nothing to revive the organization, to spread his message, did anything at all to reach beyond ourselves regarding his return, he would be livid. Perhaps he would lock us in a dungeon for a year like he had already done.
I remembered his cold stare as he gazed into my very soul as the frog. One wrong move and he would kill us.
After six long years had come and gone, we finally possessed the Seven Artifacts.
Artemis and I stayed in an Inn the night before we returned to Father. Neither of us could sleep. We held hands and laid side by side, both of us afraid to say what we truly felt, what we both knew to be true. As her eyelids fluttered shut, I realized that the girl sleeping beside me wasn’t Artemis the Merciless.
For the first time in a long time, I saw my sister.
When we awoke, I was shocked to see her mature face resting besides me. We had become so much older.
I ran my hand against the blade of my ax. I had allowed it to remain dull for so long, but Father was going to need it to be sharpened, ready to kill in his name.
“This is a beautiful world,” Artemis said to herself a little too loudly at the entrance of the inn. I knew she wanted me to hear her, but I said nothing. “You should sharpen your ax,” she added quickly.
While at the armory, I gazed upon the blacksmith as he sharpened my blade for me. Five years ago, Artemis had distracted him with a long conversation about the usage of spears and their relevance in combat, while I raided the backroom and stole many of his supplies. We looked so different now that he fortunately couldn’t recognize us.
As we left the armory, I noticed Artemis leave a very hefty bag of gold on the counter for the cheap work he had done for us.
When we returned to the cave, Father was sitting exactly where he was when we left him. Eagerly, he glared at us. We placed all Seven Artifacts around him.
Light filled the room then faded. Standing before us was our Father, human again, as ominous as ever.
The corner of his mouth flickered upward as he clenched his fist, the atmosphere of the room tensing with it. I could feel my chest being squeezed as he did this. When his fist unclenched, Artemis dropped down to one knee before him. I followed suit.
He looked past us, walking towards the entrance to the cave, as if he was in a trance.
I got to my feet and ran after him. Artemis tried to grab my cloak to stop me, but I had sprinted over to him too quickly.
I grabbed his arm gently. He stopped in place but refused to look at me. Slowly, my fingers slipped off of his arm and dived back to my side. I looked up at him, shaking. “Father, A-am I—am I a good daughter?”
He said nothing of course, and stepped out of the cave, sucking on his teeth as he looked up at the sunny skies. His eyes sparkled as he imagined the horrific possibilities.
Artemis wrapped her arms around me from behind, resting her head on my shoulder, as Father, with the wave of his hand, turned the sky blood red. Clouds blackened and swirled together. The wind picked up, leaves rattling all around.
Artemis’ only thumb tapped on the handle to my ax. I nodded. She was right.
I pulled out my ax and swung it at Father’s head but just as it came close to cleaving his skull in two, my ax froze in the air. A great pain jolted through my arms as he slowly turned to face me. His eyes fell upon me, and I shook from pain, trying to tear my ax from his invisible grip.
His jaw fell slack for a moment as he looked into my eyes, but he quickly gathered his composure and clenched his fist.
I let go of the ax, my hands retreating to my throat where I could feel him strangling me.
Artemis passed by me on my left and slashed at Father with a sword she was gifted from a mercenary in Lankmar. Again, shock twisted his face into dismay as he tried dodging the sword strikes, but she managed to land a good cut on his upper arm.
The grip on my throat loosened.
Artemis fought with everything she had, but it wasn’t enough. Had she possessed both hands, she might have been able to outlast him, even with his newfound power, but as it was, it was of no use. He stabbed her in the knee and she fell into a genuflecting position.
He sneered at her and raised his sword over her head.
Breaking from his grip, I charged forward and grabbed onto my ax hanging in the air, and swung it down hard on his back. The steel tore through Father’s cloak and right through his back, killing him on the spot. Like a leaf in the autumn season, he crumpled.
The sky reverted back to its normal colors.
As I fell to my knees, Artemis crawled to my side and grabbed onto me. I let go of the ax and wrapped my arms around her.
“Time to start over,” she said.