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The Brothers Hognatius


by d_morton

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The world was laid out before him, stretching out until even his sharp eyes could make out no more, bathed in the clear sunlight of a perfect day throughout the world. Always Neopia Central drew his gaze more than anywhere else, for within that sprawling metropolis existed the dregs of the world; thieves, con artists and villains so twisted it was beyond his comprehension to imagine them living among decent society. Once so beautiful, the world was falling into disrepair, with nobody rising to stand their ground and declare, ‘No!’

     ‘One day, brother, we will change the world.’

     For years he had been saying that, and slowly the two of them were beginning to formulate plans, although the latter years of the academy were restricting their activities somewhat. Soon that would all be over, though, and he would be free to pursue his true calling in this world and finally change it for the better; to create a world that was free from the corruption and the evils that were running unchecked. Judicius would not be able to help yet: he still had two more years of academia ahead of him. But for Mortimer the future was almost at hand. This was why he had been born, and why Fate had selected him for this prestigious task.

     ‘Mortimer, come on, we have to study for the exam,’ a voice called, drawing the Moehog back from the edge of the clouds. Young and handsome, Mortimer Hognatius was truly the pride of the academy on Faerieland, with his dark Halloween skin and sleek black hair, eternally draped in opulent black and silver robes, his dark eyes forever alight with rapturous intelligence that left him the top of every class. Although still rumours, everybody knew he was up to receive Fyora’s award this year for the top graduate. There could be nobody else.

     Never quite on par with his best friend, the checkered Kougra Kribal was always playing catch up, yet seemed never to care. His primary purpose was to make Mortimer look better, and so long as they never faced off in combat he was perfect at his task. For that was the one area where Kribal excelled, even Valeane the Battle Faerie marvelling at the stolid Kougra’s mastery of the sword.

     Giving Kribal a small nod of agreement, more to help his friend than for his own benefit, Mortimer cast one last look over Neopia before falling into step beside the Kougra and wandering back through Faerieland. Judicius and Sarah would be around somewhere, enjoying their freedom; in their year there were no exams to suffer. It was a pleasant respite for them, but in the final two years they would be forced to pay for it, most certainly.

     Mortimer’s brother Judicius lacked the many qualities that made Mortimer so special in this world. A blue Moehog, he was little more than average in every field that his brother was exceptional; in academia he was the middle of the road, while he lacked the handsome features and sublime voice of his older brother. Yet Judicius was a noble and honest sort, loved by all who had ever met him, and was keen to aid in Mortimer’s grand design. Often it resulted in trouble between the two, but things always resolved harmlessly with a laugh and a cheer. Usually it was the faerie Uni Sarah that managed to bring these about; the mediator of the quartet, she was also the least actively engaged in their activities and preferred to work on her own studies. Although she had no exams yet, she knew what the following two years would contain, and she wanted a head start.

     Yet for all that people expected of that quartet, only one would ever come close to the expectations laid out. For that day would be their last.

     Lightning rendered the clouds above, the long, drawn out rumbles of thunder reverberating throughout the city in the clouds. Against the dark window the rain smote heavily, relentless in its vain pursuit of breaking through. Lying back in bed Mortimer watched it with a strange contentment; he had always preferred the rain, with its refreshing feel and crisp smell. Yet it was not as common as he would have liked in Faerieland, although the novelty gave it another level of charm.

     He gazed over to the next bed where Judicius was lost in a deep sleep, as per usual. Very little was able to rouse his brother from his dreams, and something as trivial as a storm was not liable to achieve such a gargantuan task. Mortimer just smiled to himself. He was told he had been like that once, but as he grew up he had changed. Judicius just had not changed so much with age. Parts of him matured, but there was still a streak within that kept him innocent like a child.

     Suddenly there was a hammering on the door downstairs. Mortimer rolled from bed and on to his feet, listening to the sound of his mother shuffling past his door. Silently he opened it a crack and saw the middle-aged purple Moehog unbolt their door, still wearing her fluffy pink dressing gown and matching slippers.

     There was a light outside. Sensing trouble, Mortimer quickly pushed the door closed, listening intently to the hushed conversation and knowing something was awry. His heart was racing. A faerie at this time? Only a light faerie could produce a luminescence like that, and they did not appear arbitrarily in the dead of night.

     Quickly he opened the door again and slipped onto the landing, silently making his way downstairs and out into the rain-soaked street. A sheet of lightning cast the street into a sharp and intimidating relief, but Mortimer knew there was nothing more terrifying than him prowling the streets tonight, and pushing his hair out of his face where the rain plastered it untidily, he set off in pursuit of his mother.

     The once pleasing sound of the rain lashing against a window had become an unwelcome drone in the background, grating against his nerves. His usually sleek and dignified hair was a tangled mess at this time of night, and now the rain was determined to waylay his activities and constantly leave it in front of his eyes. Angrily he forced it aside and ran blindly through the half-light, the weak flickering of a handful of magical lights the only illumination he received tonight. That meant midnight had long since passed, although as to the actual time he had no idea. Against this backdrop it was difficult to concentrate, and he had already lost track of the time spent outside in the cold and wet.

     That was when he saw the light in the sky, drawing closer, and recognised it instantly: Fyora, Queen of the Faeries.

     Rushing back through the sodden streets he homed in on the arrival of the powerful faerie, bounding through an alley within moments of her falling from sight. His feet slipped on the thick layer of standing water and hurled him to the floor, his skull cracking painfully against the ground. Although appearing soft and fluffy, the magics within the clouds left them harder than stone, and left Mortimer grumbling angrily and cursing the fool who had thought of such a malicious system.

     Gathered in the next street was a cluster of anxious faeries and pets, Mortimer quickly recognising the lurid pink dressing gown of his mother, now saturated with rainwater. In front of them stood Fyora, lowering something on to the ground before her assembled audience.

     It was a pet. Tall and broad, the pet still wore the Faeriesteel armour that was gifted only to those hand-selected by the Queen herself. The sword was still clutched in his lifeless hand; a fearsome power had fused it with his tight-fitting gauntlet. There was a tranquil expression on his face as he was laid gently on the ground, Mortimer watching the pets gather closer together. He knew why.

     ‘Dad?’ he cried, rushing into the street. Teary-eyed, his mother called out to him but he just ignored her, dropping to his knees and sliding the last few feet to his father’s side. To his horror, he found no tears coming as he held his father close, the cold touch of the Faeriesteel against his body. Only dimly was he aware of Fyora speaking over him, telling a story to his mother of what had happened. It did not matter to Mortimer though, not now.

     ‘It’s all my fault.’

     Four words sank deep into Mortimer’s mind, a murderous look in his eyes as he stared up at the Faerie Queen. He had always imagined her a powerful yet benign force in the world, but now she was taking the blame for what was in his arms. Yet the more he contemplated it, the more it made sense; not a lot could break Faeriesteel, but the magics of the Faerie Queen were beyond comprehension.

     ‘You did this?’ he snarled, rising to his full and impressive height, although it was barely on par with Fyora.

     ‘Mortimer, please allow me to explain,’ Fyora started, but he cut across her.

     ‘Answer me! Did you do this?’ he snapped, both hands subconsciously curling into fists.

     ‘Yes, I am to blame,’ Fyora answered slowly.

     He wanted to attack, to hit every part of the faerie he could reach, but the rational part of him knew it would be a waste of his energies. The very foundations of his beliefs shook under the force of what Fyora said, and he just found his legs backing away of their own accord, no input from his mind.

     Succumbing to the will of his body he turned and ran, shunning the cries that came back to him from his mother. The drone of the rain fell on deaf ears, the only sound he could make out as he ran being the echo of Fyora’s words, professing blame for his father’s death. Over and over they sounded, always the same, always utterly devoid of emotion. He had been nothing to her, just another pawn to be sacrificed for her own ends.

     The door slammed back against the wall as he rushed back into the house and straight up the stairs into the bedroom, a shudder running through the doorframe as he forced it closed with such ferocity.

     ‘Huh?’ Judicius mumbled groggily, blinking stupidly at his brother.

     So great was Mortimer’s fury that he just ignored his brother’s awakening, failing to pass comment on how he had been awoken, and continued to force a choice few of his meticulously well organised possessions into his bag. Judicius just watched in shock, unable to believe the figure angrily stalking the bedroom was his brother; so dishevelled and lacking in composure, it was nothing like the brother he loved so dearly.

     ‘Mortimer?’ a voice called up the stairs. Quickly he kicked a heavy trunk in front of the door, wedging it neatly between the door and his bed, holding it fast while their mother rattled the doorknob. ‘Mortimer, we need to talk about this!’

     ‘Touch that trunk and I swear I will hurt you, Judicius,’ Mortimer snapped without turning to look at his brother, who paused half way toward the door.

     ‘What is going on, Mortimer?’ he asked slowly, stepping out of his brother’s path as he rushed across the room.

     Mortimer stopped in his tracks, fiddling with the thick tome in his hands. If only Judicius had stayed asleep this would have been much easier, but the fool had stupidly decided to change his sleeping habits on the worst possible night. He did not want Judicius to find out this way, but there was no turning back for him now, and he would need his brother’s help.

     ‘Our father is dead,’ he replied stoically. ‘Fyora has just returned to Faerieland bringing his body. She... she killed him.’

     Silence greeted the statement, Judicius collapsing back onto the bed. Looking back Mortimer could see tears running down his face, the same tears that Mortimer himself could not produce. That was Judicius, though; he always had an easier time showing his emotions. Some said he wore his heart on his sleeve, something Mortimer had always taken for a sign of weakness, but now he wished he could do the same. Yet his heart only contained room for a bitter hatred toward that which had wrought this horror on the Hognatius family.

     ‘This... there must be some mistake,’ Judicius croaked, looking to his brother for support. ‘Fyora is not a killer. She is... she is one of the good guys.’

     ‘She admitted it when I confronted her, Judicius,’ Mortimer snapped, forcibly wrenching his robes from a coat-hanger and stuffing them unceremoniously into the bag. ‘The high and mighty queen of the faeries confessed to it.’

     Judicius rose to his feet again and shook his head quickly. ‘No,’ he said distantly, ‘no. No. Just... no! Mortimer, there must be some sort of misunderstanding here.’

     ‘A misunderstanding in a confession?’ Mortimer snarled, menacingly approaching his brother with a dark look spread across his sombre face. ‘How is it possible to misunderstand a blatant confession, brother? She admitted fault, and when I confronted her, she confessed! There is no margin of error in this, and I am frankly affronted that you would side with her over your own brother! We are brethren, born of the same flesh and blood that she has taken from us!’

     ‘Mortimer, you know as well I that she has no reason to do this!’ Judicius retorted hotly, rising to his own respectable height and breadth.

     His brother just hung his head, looking deflated. He had hoped Judicius would not pick up on that fact, but as always his brother saw the plain facts that many smarter pets would miss. It was probably his most redeeming feature in Mortimer’s eyes, although that strange innocence he held was also oddly appealing; anything Mortimer himself lacked he found of interest, although not often for long.

     ‘Think about this logically for a minute, Judicius,’ Mortimer explained slowly, carefully pronouncing every word. ‘Fyora is unquestionably the most powerful single being in all Neopia, and beneath her is a veritable army of faeries, any one of whom possesses more power than almost any Neopet ever born or hatched. Brother, we have made extensive plans for the changing of this world, and the eradication of the evil that plagues it. We have already set in motion plans to heal this world from the evils that ail it, and we are but a pair of students, still at the academy. Fyora is the queen of the faeries, and possesses the power to make our dream a reality. Yet she does nothing. Fyora’s private army exist to protect the borders of Faerieland, when she should be using them to combat the evils we face. I ask you but one question, Judicius: why does she sit by and let them run free?’

     The blue Moehog just shrank away from his brother and collapsed onto the bed again in silence, hearing only the distant sound of their mother’s sobs from the landing. Everything Mortimer had said rung true in his ears, but that was his brother’s gift. His knowledge was insurmountable and his reasoning forever perfect. Yet he could never capture that emotion that was always present when speaking of people, be they Neopet or faerie, and his reasoning was always cold and cynical. Sometimes people did things for reasons that could not be explained so rationally, and that fact was beyond his grasp.

     ‘I don’t know, Mortimer, but I do know she is not evil,’ he answered at length.

     ‘You are wrong,’ Mortimer responded coldly. ‘She allows evil to flourish because it is far easier to rule when people are living in fear. By allowing evil to thrive she evokes fear in the hearts of all on Neopia, and she can use this to her advantage. To what end I do not know, but I will not allow her to do this any longer! Come with me, brother, and tonight we will begin putting everything in motion. Tonight we will begin to change the world, and restore hope and freedom by exterminating Fyora’s twisted plot.’

     ‘What are you talking about, Mortimer? This is not what we planned! This is madness!’

     Despite Judicius being the broader and stronger of the pair, Mortimer easily lifted him from the bed and pinned him against the wall, almost pressing his snarling face against the his brother’s terrified expression.

     ‘Sanity to madness is madness to sanity,’ he hissed. ‘In a world gone mad a sane man is the one perceived as crazy, and in this world it would seem I am one of the few sane ones left. I had expected more of you, brother, after all our plans and all the time we spent preparing for this moment. Yet now, at the eleventh hour it would appear you too have fallen into the clutches of the enemy.’

     Forcefully Judicius pushed his brother back. ‘“Fallen into the clutches of the enemy”,’ he repeated incredulously. ‘Mortimer, the shock of losing dad has made you lose your mind! We planned to change the world for the better, and purge the evils from it at last, but what you are talking about is trying to eliminate the greatest benign force in all Neopia. If you strike at Fyora, you will be declaring open season throughout Neopia! You will change the world all right, but you’ll change it for the worse!’

     Mortimer just gave a contemptuous grunt and claimed his bag from his bed. Looking back at Judicius, the young blue Moehog saw the face of someone he barely recognised, the usual intelligent flicker beneath the dark eyes replaced by a cold and sinister emptiness. The intelligence was still there, but now something else had pride of place in the mind and in the heart of Mortimer Hognatius.

     ‘Believe whatever you will, brother,’ he said quietly, finally averting his unnerving stare. ‘It seems that we have come to a parting of the ways. One day perhaps you will see the truth in my words, Judicius, and on that day our paths will cross again. Take care of mother for me.’

     ‘Mortimer, please, don’t go,’ Judicius protested, but his brother just shook his head, and opening the window nimbly slipped through and into the storm. Judicius heard only the sound of a heavy landing below, and the fading footsteps of his brother disappearing into the night.

     Reaching the end of their dark garden, Mortimer hesitated and looked back up from the depths of his shroud to where Judicius was silhouetted in the window, searching the darkness in vain. ‘It should not have been this way, brother,’ he whispered sadly, ‘but this is the path Fate has given me. Farewell, Judicius.’

     For a fleeting moment a flash of lightning illuminated him, but as the darkness crept back to reclaim its rightful place, Mortimer Hognatius was forever lost to the night.

The End

 
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