“Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?”
“What would be the fun of it if I did?”
“Are you kidding me right now, Johannes?”
“Horst, do you know me at all?” Johannes now boasted a deep frown, creasing not only his brow, but additionally his entire countenance. He flicked the light mist from his blue-tinted spectacles with a ring finger in annoyance—also consequently the only one not covered in blood—as one would swat at a stray, persistent fly. Rolling up his sleeves as to wipe the remaining blood from his hand and dagger on the still corpse at his feet, the infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal stated simply, “I never kid.”
Horst heaved a great, deep, resigned sigh. “Johannes, you just killed the hero of the story…”
Johannes, entertaining Horst’s exasperation, regarded the struck-down, blushing body of a blond-haired, medium-built knight on the drenched ground at his feet. Johannes considered the man of a bland, typical breed of handsome one would associate with the common jock; but considering the knight’s relative state of being dead—and the fact that he was lying literally face-down in the dirt—Johannes disregarded the thought.
Interrupting Johannes’ inner monologue, as he so often did, Horst indicated the knight’s pooling blood.
“Let him serve as a warning to all those who pass. Let’s just leave him, Horst. There’s a storm brewing at our shoulders and a castle that needs raiding—or rather one that I need to raid. I can only assume it was this unfortunate knight’s destination.”
“You mean the high castle on that distant, imposing precipice? Yes, Johannes, I would say that you’re right. Surprisingly.” Horst flashed his brooding brother a brief smirk.
“So are we going to Sir Gawain the shit out of this adventure, or what? Save the damsel—or damoiseau—in distress, or what need be?”
Johannes rolled his eyes. “As a matter of formality, I guess we must. But only after I’ve reaped the fruits of my venture, and by that I mean gain access to the castle and hijack what books onto which I decide to lay claim.”
“So the usual?”
Horst complied with a shrug. “As long as this castle isn’t an outpost of the reign of Mirkarvia, then I’m all for it. So how do we get there? From here? It’s quite distant.”
Johannes flash a devilish and dangerous smile—one of many—at which even Satan himself had cause to flinch. “Why so worried, Horst? Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“Really, Johannes, for a supposedly intelligent and perspective practitioner of all things necromancy, you are often obstinately thick. So many times, Johannes. Shall I bullet them for you?”
Johannes plowed on, “No, that’s not necessary. We don’t have enough time—time...yes…”
“What now, genius?”
Ignoring the snide taunt to his ego, Johannes continued. “It’s time to reinvent the bob-and-wheel, to segue us to the next narrative stanza, and thus and therefore, into the castle in no time at all.”
“Are you high, Johannes?”
“Not today, Horst. This is a romantic adventure narrative, is it not?”
“Well yes, I do believe it is.”
Johannes stomped his skull-tipped cane on the wet underbrush, and declared, “Then we must follow it in true form and fashion—stylistic or otherwise.”
Horst shot Johannes a side-eyed, amused grin. “And to that point of yours, Johannes. If it is a romance, are you going to face those aspects head-on, as well?”
“If I must.” Johannes grimaced.
“The Romantic Necromancer™, that’s what they’ll call you.”
“Hardly… That’s completely ludicrous and highly unlikely,” snarled Johannes.
“Well lookie here, if it isn’t my long-lost lover. How are you, Johannes?” Zarenyia trilled from the eaves of the top-most tower of the high castle. She regarded Horst with much interest and Johannes with an attractive zest. Having scaled the lengthy and aged stone stairway leading to the very threshold at which they stood, Johannes and Horst stood stock still, staring at the arachnid devil. As Zarenyia salaciously licked her lips at him, Johannes reminded himself that the only thing more currently repulsive than her threatening advances was his profuse sweating, as evidence from scaling the stairs.
“I’m assuming you’re here to save the belovéd’s prisoner?” continued Zarenyia, flicking her eyes wantonly at the Brothers Cabal.
“Yes, where is the dear princess?” Horst surveyed the cylindrical room with a flourish.
“Zarenyia corrected him, “You mean prince.”
“Not a princess?” Johannes was surprisingly intrigued.
“Nope. One should never assume the gender of any given prisoner.” Zarenyia scuttled down the wall and joined his side.
“Well, my dear,” Johannes prepped himself to lecture, “When I killed the apparent hero of this little narrative—”
“You killed the protagonist? Naughty naughty, Johannes!”
“—I just assumed that the tropes were as basic as they came. Princess trapped in the high castle, and all that nonsense. Forgive me. Sadly there was no dragon either… If there’s one thing duller than predictability, it’s the lackluster delivery of the aforementioned predictability.”
Horst strode over to his grumpy brother and threw a careless arm over his shoulder. “Now now, where’s that cavalier attitude you were in possession of just a moment ago?”
Johannes reluctantly removed his tinted spectacles and scowled, “I abandoned it as soon as you dragged me up those wretched steps.”
“So where exactly is the dear trapped prince?” Horst asked of Zarenyia.
Johannes shrugged off his brother and whipped around to glare at her. “You didn’t...you know?”
“Do my usual thing Johannes? What, you don’t want me to feel sexually satisfied?”
“Not at this moment, madam. So did you?”
She smirked, but then quickly Zarenyia’s face devolved into a puckering pout. “No...he was already gone by the time I got here.”
“So, then...where is he?” Horst asked.
“No idea,” she put simply.
“So then, Zarenyia,” queried Johannes, “Why are you here?”
“Ah Johannes, I do love when you say my name, it sends such a pleasant shiver down my frame.”
At this remark, Horst snorted so loudly that he projected a bit of snot on Johannes’ previously unsoiled black, wool pea coat. He immediately attempted to rescind the action with an apology. “Whoops, sorry brother. She’s most amusing, this friend of yours.”
Zarenyia offered Horst a wink. “I am, aren’t I?”
“Why are you here?” persisted Johannes.
“I followed you, Johannes, can’t you see? You’re the real hero of this romance.”