Chapter 1: The End of One Story
Sophie stood beside Josh with her back straight and her body tensed, glaring at the couple before her. The couple were Osiris and Isis, her parents, no her kidnappers as they had just revealed. The four stood on top of the Pyramid of the Sun and around them the battle continued. Palamedes, William Shakespeare, Prometheus, Tsagaglalal, Saint-Germain, and Joan of Arc all fought to protect them from the hoard of beasts whose goal was to tear Josh and her apart.
“And Sophie and I...are we related?” Josh asked. Sophie tensed even more which she didn't think was possible. She feared the answer to that question and she knew that Josh felt the same way. While she and Josh had already correctly guessed Isis and Osiris's connection to them, she didn't want her guess on her true connection to Josh to be right. She dreaded the answer to this question.
Isis and Osiris remained silent, looking at them, their eyes mocking. Dread filled her entire body. She slowly closed her eyes in despair. Their silence and mocking eyes were not good signs.
“Are we!” Josh shouted suddenly, and the couple jumped. Sophie would have too if her body wasn't so tense. Instead, her eyes had snapped open at Josh's shout.
“Not by blood, no, but you are Gold and Silver,” Osiris said. “It is an ancient bloodline. There is a kinship there.” Sophie stopped breathing. She had suspected that they weren't twins, but as long as they were related in some way, it would have been fine. They would have still been family. But now, now she didn't know what to think.
“Who are we?” she screamed. She began to tremble from fear, anger, and terrible loss. She was unaware of the silver tears streaming down her face. Her trembling increased as Isis callously revealed how they had found two perfect babies that met their requirements in a casual manner.
When she felt that she might faint or collapse, Josh stepped over and steadied her. She could feel him shaking too.
“You kidnapped us,” Josh murmured. Isis and Osiris laughed. As Osiris continued to talk, Sophie's fear and feeling of terrible loss lessened. Instead, her anger gradually increased and began to overwhelm her.
“And for that you owe us a debt of gratitude and respect,” Isis added. Something in Sophie snapped.
“We owe you nothing!” she yelled, seething in anger. Sophie felt Josh let go of her, but she paid no mind to that. She heard him leave her and she didn't stop him because she knew he had to do something to calm himself. She knew that he would be back soon and didn't worry. Instead, she focused her attention on glaring at Isis and Osiris. The sounds of battle had dulled and was nearly silent as she worked herself into a rage.
How dare she say that! Sophie clenched her fists and gritted her teeth to prevent herself from attacking the couple. They owed them nothing. Why should they have to owe anything to the ones who kidnapped them and lied to them? Why should they feel obliged to follow the people who heartlessly destroyed everything they believed in and ripped their identities from them without a hint of remorse or hesitation? Why should they help their so called saviors when Isis and Osiris saved them from a short life just so that they could raise them to be the perfect tools?
For the majority of their life, Josh and Sophie only had each other to rely on. With the constant traveling, friends were hard to make and keep. It was a miracle that Sophie still had Elle to talk to and even that friendship was slowly fading.
With every new town and school, Sophie was able to adapt and not become anti-social because her brother was there for her. She knew that it was the same for Josh. They kept each other stable and neither would abandon each other for anything. They were one soul separated into two bodies.
She took several deep breaths to calm herself as Josh walked to stand next to her.
“No more,” Josh pleaded. “Let this end now.”
“Only you can end it,” Isis said. “Only you have the power.” She smiled. “Think of this: you could wipe away the anpu and the humani, and the Elders, too. This world, and all the Shadowrealms, could be yours to command.”
“Look around you!” Osiris shouted, spreading his arms wide. “Look at what could be yours. The greatest empire ever seen. It is yours for the taking.”
Sophie stared at them, wondering how stupid they were if they thought that that would convince them. When had they ever shown any desire to rule over anything? Did they really think that she and Josh were power hungry and greedy?
“But we don't want it,” she said, speaking for both herself and Josh. “You do.”
“And we don't want to give it to you,” Josh added.
Isis and Osiris looked at them blankly.
“You will do as you are told,” Isis insisted.
“No!” The twins spoke as one.
“Then you are useless to us,” Isis hissed. She looked at Osiris. “Kill them.”
The twins watched in horror as Isis and Osiris changed. They both unconsciously took a step back and reached their arms out to each other for some kind of physical contact.
The transformation was sudden, sending them from human to beast in a single heartbeat. Ceramic armor burst apart as their pale skin split to reveal something dark and foul beneath. They grew tall, and the human flesh peeled away like torn paper to expose hard scales, rigid with triangular armored plates. Their faces lengthened to long serpentine snouts, and angular mouths filled with teeth. Their eyes flattened along the sides of their faces and turned yellow, while wicked horns curled from their heads. Their fingers grew razor-tipped claws. Barbed tails uncoiled, and wings, huge black batlike wings, unfurled from their backs.
When the transformation was complete, Sophie suddenly knew what the Witch of Endor had only suspected but could never quite believe.
“Earthlords,” she whispered. She immediately pulled out her swords. They shimmered, trembling in her hands. “That's why the Witch destroyed so much of the ancient knowledge. She was keeping it from you.”
In her head, Zephaniah's memories raced. Each memory were of Isis and Osiris's suspicious activities, of finding and destroying everything that once belonged to those that came before the Elders, and of the rare encounters Zephaniah have had with the remaining Earthlords. But the memories soon became jumbled and incoherent. Sophie hid a wince as a small headache formed.
“A hundred thousand years ago your ancestors nearly destroyed our race,” one of the Earthlords said, speaking with Osiris' voice.
“But we survived, and we swore a terrible vengeance,” the Earthlord next to it continued in Isis' voice.
The two Earthlords advanced on the twins, causing Sophie to immediately move in front of Josh's frozen figure and shift into a protective stance. Her swords were raised and pointing towards the two Earthlords. Briefly, she worried about Josh since she was well aware of his fear of snakes and the two creatures in front of them made his nightmares a reality.
“With your powers–your vast, incalculable powers–at our command,” Isis said, stamping her foot, “on this very spot, the very nexus of this Shadowrealm, we were going to open a portal into the past and bring our people through to this time. How they would have feasted on this world and all the other worlds."
The Earthlords stepped closer as they spoke and did not show any sign of wariness when Sophie lifted her swords. Her nose scrunched up in disgust at the Earthlords who exuded a rancid odor, and tiny insects and fat fleas twisted through their scales. Saliva dripping from their fangs seared the stones like acid as it fell. Black wings rose and spread, blotting out the last of the light.
“We will kill you and go back into the Shadowrealms,” Isis said. “We will find other Golds and Silvers. We will not make the same mistakes again.”
“No, you will not,” Sophie breathed. She threw herself forward and stabbed Durendal and Joyeuse into one of the creatures. While it was very tempting to slash both of the Earthlords with her swords, it was best if she managed to kill one of them instead of injuring both.
The movement caught the Earthlords by surprise and the swords reached their target–one of the creatures chest. With a big tug that ripped the swords out of the creature, Sophie quickly leapt back with her swords in hand. Green blood dripped from the blades of her swords.
The creature let out a horrifying, inhuman scream as a tall and vast column of blinding flames consumed it and lit the night sky. A large circle of white flames burst out of the column. Sophie stumbled back from the force of the white flames and the strong winds and raised one arm over her eyes. When the column flickered away, a bubbling pool of liquid gold was left. Some of the flames had collided with her swords, causing them to buzz and have oily flames run all along the blades of the swords, sparkling, crackling, and sizzling.
The other creature gave an ear-piercing shriek and quickly smashed its tail against Sophie's back, shattering her silver armor. The attack broke her ribs and an arm and sent her crashing into the ground. Her swords were knocked out of her hands, spinning away and stopping a few feet from her.
The creature stood over her and planted a clawed foot on her stomach, pinning her to the ground. Sophie grunted and bit her lower lip hard to muffle the pained scream that was itching its way out of her mouth. Her left arm was completely numb and the pain in her ribs was breathtakingly excruciating. When she tried to call up her aura, the pain across her back and in her stomach was too much, breaking her concentration. Her eyes were wet and tears were threatening to fall.
The creature loomed over her, glaring at her with hatred in its eyes. “You will pay for that,” the creature Sophie now recognized as Isis hissed. “We originally planned to give the two of you quick and relatively painless deaths out of some kind of sentimental feelings, but now I will make sure that you will beg for death.”
Isis pushed harder onto Sophie's stomach, causing her to bite her lip even harder. Her lower lip was red and bleeding. “You may have killed my partner, but you will never be able to defeat me. You cannot launch a surprise attack on me,” Isis said, her tone mocking. She laughed at Sophie's squirming and muffled screams. “You are just humani.”
“We are Gold and Silver!” Josh shouted from behind them. Blazing incandescent red and blue-white fire, he plunged Clarent and Excalibur into Isis. “We are the twins of legend!” She let out a horrifying, inhuman shriek as she suffered the same fate as her husband.
Josh stumbled a few steps back and Sophie was sent rolling a few feet away from where Isis once stood. Both were quick to cover their faces from the flames, wind, and light. The twins heard Clarent and Excalibur clattered as they landed on the gold ground and on the bubbling pool of liquid gold. Like the other two Swords of Power, oily flames ran along the blades of the two swords, sparkling, crackling, and sizzling.
Josh rushed to Sophie's side when the light show was over, bending on his knees as his worried eyes scanned her body. She gave him a small smile and he sighed in relief as she started to use her aura to heal her wounds. The air was soon rich with the scent of vanilla. He shifted so that he sat cross-legged beside her.
He had been terrified for her when she had suddenly leaped at Osiris and killed him. He thought his heart had stopped when she was knocked aside by Isis' tail and was stepped on. Fury made him finally move when he had heard her muffled screams of pain. Looking over her wounds, he couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt for not acting sooner. If he hadn't stood there like a frozen idiot, immobilized by his fear of snakes, he could have prevented her from getting that wounded.
Sophie turned her head and stared wide-eyed into the distance. “Is it over?” she asked.
“No,” Josh said sadly. “There's still one thing to do. There is the prophecy.”
She nodded. “The twins of legend,” she whispered. “One to save the world, one to destroy it.”
Josh leaned forward and felt something move under his armor. He reached in and took out the emerald tablet Tsagaglalal had given him. At first glance it was nothing more than a slab of slightly greasy stone. He turned it over and over in his hands. “It's blank,” he said.
“Wait,” Sophie advised.
Josh rubbed his thumb across the surface, cleaning it...and words formed, shimmering gold against the green. He blinked in surprise and was soon absorbed, focusing entirely on reading.
As he read the tablet, Sophie stared at the face of the person who was not her brother but was still her twin and watched the emotions on his face. His surprise was quickly replaced by curiosity and slight confusion before settling on sorrow and resignation. His resignation alarmed her and she was filled with trepidation.
Josh turned the blank green stone over in his hand and then gently slipped back beneath his armor. He looked over at the girl who was not his sister but was still his twin, and they both nodded. “It's time,” he whispered.
“Time for what?” she asked, groaning as she got up, arm pressed to her stomach.
“One to save the world,” he said with a sad smile, “one to destroy it.”
The pyramid groaned as another earthquake tremor rippled through it. The nearby volcano detonated in a long slow rumble, showering sparks onto the city below. There was a sudden patter of footsteps around them. Josh grabbed Clarent and Excalibur and scrambled to his feet while Sophie dragged herself, ignoring the pain her actions caused, and grabbed the nearest sword, Durendal.
The second the twins raised their swords Prometheus and Tsagaglalal, then Scathach and Joan, Saint-Germain, and finally Palamedes, carrying a groaning William Shakespeare, climbed onto the top of the pyramid. They were all blooded and bruised, clothes torn, armor shattered, and weapons broken. But they were all alive.
Josh and Sophie relaxed and sighed in relief. Everyone had survived so far. Josh sheathed his swords and Sophie dropped Durendal next to its twin Joyeuse.
“We need to get out of here,” Prometheus said. “The earthquake will tear the pyramid apart.” They started to climb into Isis and Osiris's gleaming vimana.
“I thought I said I was never getting into another vimana,” Shakespeare muttered.
Josh helped Sophie to her feet and half carried her toward the vimana. He stopped her from grabbing Durendal and Joyeuse and gently shook his head at her questioning look. Scathach and Joan were about to go to his aid, but Saint-Germain put a hand on their shoulders. “No. Leave them be,” he said in French. “They need this moment together.”
Sophie was crying. “Josh, we're powerful, we can do something else....” She ignored how she must looked like to everyone and focused only on her twin. Josh did the same, wanting to savor this one last moment with his beloved twin. Right now, it was only the two of them in the world.
“You know what has to be done,” he said simply. “That's why we're here. That's why all of us are here. We were brought here to do this one thing. This is what we were born for. This is our destiny.
“I should be the one to do it,” she insisted, her voice cracking. “I'm older.” She wanted to breakdown and collapse in his arms at what must be done. She wanted to rage and scream at the world for the unfairness of it all. She wanted to grab him and run away from it all, run away from their destiny.
“No you're not,” he said, gently smiling a sad smile. He knew what she was thinking and wanted to do the same. “Not anymore. I'm about thirty thousand years older than you. And you're injured. I'm not.” There were gold tears on his face now, but he was unaware of them. “Besides, I think yours is going to be the harder job.” He hugged her. “Let me do this,” he said, “and if I can, I'll come find you.”
Sophie slowly left Josh's hug and stared at his tear-stained face, carving every last detail of his face into her mind. When had her brother matured this much? When had both of them changed so much? Sophie couldn't help but feel sad and proud; sad because of what they had to go through to become who they were now and proud because Josh was now a responsible, strong man with a noble heart. “Promise?”
“I promise. Now go,” he pleaded.
“I will never forget you,” Sophie whispered.
“And I will always remember you,” Josh promised.
They embraced one last time, each breathing in the other's scent and memorizing it. They reluctantly let go of each other when Scathach and Joan placed a hand on their shoulders. Sophie let them help her into the vimana and immediately turned to face Josh. She was the last to enter the vimana since everyone had already entered to give the twins their needed space.
The heavily laden vimana took off from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and into the night air, carrying the survivors to safety. Sophie stared at Josh. She was supported on either side by Scathach and Joan. When she saw Josh raise his right hand in farewell, she raised a hand and pressed her fingers against the glass. She was not crying now–she had no tears left.
Her hand laid on the glass and stayed there even as the distance between her and her twin increased. The vimana was silent and no one tried to move her. She was oblivious to the worried glances from everyone conscious.
“Goodbye, Sophie,” she heard. 'Josh!' She gasped, looking around for her brother. When she saw he wasn't there, she inwardly cursed her mind and her imagination for the hallucination, but some small part of her knew that Josh had really said that. As she gazed back out the window, she gasped again as she saw the gigantic golden pillar of light that came from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. She suddenly bent over and grunted as some kind of force slammed into her. Vaguely, she heard the others grunt too and the hands that supported her temporarily left her.
'Josh...' she thought in dismay, leaning her head against the window and clenching her hands until her knuckles were white. She ignored the gasps and cries of alarm and distress around her. She only thought of her brother. 'Please, Josh, please be alright,' she prayed. She forlornly watched as the island of Danu Talis slowly broke apart and sank under the raging waters. For a short moment, she wondered and worried about the survivors still on the island, but her mind was quickly consumed with thoughts of Josh. It was only when the pillar of light dissipated and the pyramid was no longer in view did she let Scathach and Joan lead her to a seat. The majority of the trip was quiet and the wind and hum of the vimana were a constant noise. Soft murmurs were occasionally heard as people comforted each other.
The small part of her that knew that she had not hallucinated also knew that something big had happened to Josh and that he may not be Josh anymore.
“Goodbye, Josh,” Sophie softly said and turned her back to the crumbling island and her brother, facing the direction of where her new life and home will be.