Amir stumbled into the Sticks, his body still bloody and bruised. The small shantytown was barely a place for the living, as most there were nearly dead. Unlike the lush farmlands of the castle, the Sticks remained rundown and desolate, surviving on very little. Only a rumored few had ever held out long enough become wizened.
Waiting inside a crude shack lie Amir’s decrepit twin, Wren. The brothers’ hair, like their skin, was stained the color of mud, though Amir’s locks a bit more garnet while Wren’s a bit more thin. Amir set the flask upon the table, moving to check on his sickly brother. As he did so, Amir eased his sore body onto a flimsy stack of wood fashioned into chair.
“Did you really steal dragonfire from the castle? It won’t help,” said Wren. Amir sat up, taking his brother’s hand. It weighed almost nothing, like the rest of Wren’s body. Wren batted his brother’s hand away, turning his head toward the window as he laughed a weak, depreciating laugh. “Believe me or not, doesn’t make it any less true. You know the caustic can’t tolerate dragonfire, even if we die without it. Just like everyone else.” Wren chucked a half-hearted chuckle as he looked back to his brother. “Stealing it from the castle won’t help the Sick. Nothing ever does.”
Amir sighed. A violent stomach-growl reminded him of the second, more successful part of his mission. He pulled a set of bruised plums from his pocket, brushing the dirt off. He handed one to his brother as he chomped on the other. The sweet taste of its nectar filled his mouth. The fruit’s skin catching in his teeth served a reminder of why they fought so hard to continue on. Amir pulled his makeshift chair closer to his brother’s bedside.
A flaming arrow sailed through the window frame, setting a wooden table-ish stump ablaze. Amir fell from his chair, choking on a bit of plum. He massaged his throat, working the small piece of fruit as he rose. “Brother, it’s the royal guard! You have to run!” Wren shouted. Amir grabbed his brother, trying to lift his nearly weightless body as the ache in Amir’s calves burned once more. “You can’t carry me and make it out of this. Just run. If I give them the flask they may leave it be,” Wren pleaded. Unable to carry his brother, Amir wrapped himself over the weaker twin’s bed, shielding him as the fire spread from the table to the floors and roof.
The shanty door burst into splinters as the Royal Guard stormed into the hut, dragging the brothers out. Wren struggled to no avail as he was seized and detained. Amir rushed toward his brother, making it only a few feet before the sting of a hard leather bracer sent him staggering backward into the ground. He looked up to see the Captain of the Guard towering over him. Her countenance wasn’t quite that of a smile, though she did not seem displeased as one of the guards exited the shack with the flask in hand.
“Bold peasant to steal from the king’s personal apothecary. For the caustic?” The Captain of the Guard glared at Amir while the latter gritted his teeth, keeping his eyes on his brother. He watched Wren, who seemed to be motioning to the small cliff face nearby. Amir had played there many times before. Whether or not he wanted to go, he knew where it led. He shook his head. “Amir, it’s okay. They may take me to the Stockade, but they’ll execute you.” Wren sputtered out between gasps. The Captain glanced only briefly at Wren before she returned her attention to Amir and drew her blade. A knot grew in Amir’s throat.
He scrambled back to the bluff’s edge, glancing over only once. Tugging like that of a small squirrel racing around his insides made it near impossible to breathe as he looked back to his brother, grimacing. Wren nodded as the Captain began her approach. Amir drew rapid, shallow breaths, avoiding any thoughts of how far down the next berm was.
The Captain thrust her blade, nicking Amir’s hand. He exhaled, looked passed her rusty complexion, into the Captain’s bitter emerald eyes. They held no hint of clemency. Amir rolled back, grasping at the petrous surface that dug into his cheek as he slid-fell down the side of the cliff.