“Ulred dearest! I know you’re here! Every time I come to see you I am met with a failed attempt at absence. You really must stop this, it’s quite hurtful you know.”
Travelling to meet my kind was a complicated process, seeing that, unbeknownst to ordinary beings, we all created rifts in this realm that we called home. Luckily, there weren’t too many places that could provide the kind of environment my brother enjoyed, or it would have taken even longer to find him. If he thought that failing to reveal himself would be enough to have me throw away all my time spent searching for him, then perhaps he was as unstable as my love always described him to be.
“I don’t know what you did but it was quite difficult to find a door to your home this time around.” The silence in the uncomfortable cavern caused me to grow impatient. “If you believe I will just up and leave after all that time it took to find you, then you are quite dim, brother. Stop wasting both of our time; just show yourself already. Kemryr demands it.”
As soon as I completed the sounds of my last words, the atmosphere within the cavern began to change and I knew that I had won. Surrounded by molten mess, this place was like standing in a pit of flames. It grew ever hotter now, and I noticed the lava that surrounded me begin bubbling more than before. The only escape from the now profusely bubbling magma was a sizeable circular plateau of obsidian big enough to hold at least one hundred people. The world around me began to shimmer, and eventually, the reality of my surroundings was revealed. Ulred had finally lifted his silly little spell.
“I told you not to come back here, Otti. I have already given you my answer. I have given it for years, and not once has it ever had a chance of changing.” The voice came from behind me. I turned to find a large man, his back facing me, kneeling on the hot obsidian floor.
“You won’t even stand and face me now, is that it? Perhaps I simply missed the company and conversation my kind provides.”
Ulred remained on his knees, facing the walls of whatever pit of steaming turmoil he had chosen as his home. I patted my brow with the cloth of my sleeve; I could have sworn he was raising the temperature in this place.
“You have interrupted me during my meditations. Furthermore, remember who you are speaking to before you claim that anyone can demand anything from me. The Queen of Fear’s presence may cause many in this world to cower and submit, though you should know by now that you have no power over me. No one does. Not even Father.”
I apologized, sighed, and told him that I would wait until he finished his meditations. He never replied, merely remaining in the position he had not abandoned since he revealed himself to me. I began to wonder why he would even bother revealing himself if he had no intention of speaking with me, and I found myself quite annoyed.
My patience began to reach its limits as the heat and silence, which proved to be immensely uncomfortable, continued to run wild. I had almost decided to just storm over and lift him to his feet myself, when I heard a deep sigh come from Ulred as he moved up on to one knee. He got no higher than that and remained looking at the brimstone walls.
“I know I do not need to ask, but what do you want?”
“It would be nice if you would look at me when you speak to me. You know, to show such disrespect to me may cause my beloved Kemryr to grow angry with you and—”
The surrounding lava shot high into the air, the entire cavern we were in now shaking, as Ulred sprang to his feet. He managed to turn towards me and cover the distance between us before my mind had processed his movements.
“Your beloved is not here, Otti! I will disrespect whoever I wish to disrespect, especially the person responsible for my brother’s imprisonment!”
His face was very close to mine now, the stench of soot and charred hair burning my nostrils. Despite his eyes resembling white-hot spheres, void of iris and pupil, I could still feel his intense glare. His long black hair and scraggly beard shined from the sweat that covered them. The yellow glow emanating from the many tattoos of old runes and markings on his face lit up his face like a dozen candles.
I raised my arms above my head to signify surrender. Even Kemryr would not antagonize Ulred further once his temper had flared. Ulred was wild and full of rage, much like the element he had power over, with a fiery temper that could scorch the world twice over. I will never forget Kemryr telling me all those years ago that if he could have me fear one being in this world, it would be Ulred.
“I know. I miss him too, brother, and I will never forgive myself for the part I played in his exile. Please, put your meditations to use and find some sense of peace. We are not enemies.”
Ulred closed his eyes, the heat from the exhale he released afterwards causing my face to feel like I dipped it in the lava that surrounded us. His breath had slightly burned all the flesh it had blown over, a soft stinging sensation now pulsating on my nose. The tattoos on Ulred’s face gave up their glow, and the entire molten cavern we stood in seemed to lower in temperature. He opened his eyes, revealing his natural ochre-hued irises, and a shocked expression took over his face when he saw what his breath had done to me. He quickly waved his hand passed it, the pain and sting from the burns fading instantly. He looked at me with an expression that resembled great shame and backed away a couple steps.
“I apologize for that. Otti, you know that I love and miss my brother dearly, but my answer is the same one I have given you many times over.”
“You are forgiven of course. As for your answer, I should tell you something that may change it this time around.” I smiled at him, excited to give him the news.
“I know what you wish to say. That silly little group of yours killed a king and now control his son. That does not change anything.”
He beckoned me to follow him to a table that had appeared, accompanied by two chairs, a jug and two cups. Ulred sat in one chair, poured us each a drink, and motioned for me to sit in the other seat. I sat down, took the glass, and sipped one of the most horrid drinks I had ever tasted. I did my best to not show my disgust as I crossed my legs and leaned on the armrest of the chair.
“The Black Light is not a silly group. It will be instrumental in bringing our precious Kemryr back. Installing Iver as the leader of one of the kingdoms is a huge success and the first move in a larger plan to keep our actions hidden. I know you refuse to help regarding these actions I speak of, but I need you there when we finally call for Kemryr to return to us. Please Ulred, at least give me that.”
“My dear,” Ulred started, pausing to drain his entire cup of that foul liquid before proceeding to pour himself some more. “You are young. You do not know Father well enough. You do not know our brother Lios well enough either. I trust that Kemryr may have been smart enough to devise a way to have himself released one day, but I know Lios and Father. Even if you truly can bring him back, they won’t let you. My answer remains the same as before: should he return, I will be there to greet him with open arms. Until then, I will go about my life as I have. I will not chase a possibility that could put me at odds, again, with Father and our siblings.”
He stood from his chair and walked away from the table, but I could not allow myself to accept his answer. I needed Ulred to bring Kemryr back. I got up quickly and tried to reach for Ulred’s arm, but I never achieved my goal of grasping it. Instead, I felt a snake of fire wrap around my arm as Ulred spun around to face me. I couldn't help but yelp from the raw sensation of searing pain.
“I gave you my answer Otti. I gave it to you nearly two centuries ago the first time you asked for my help, I gave it to you all the times you have visited since and now I give it for the last time.” Ulred removed his whip from my arm and I gasped at the extensive burns left behind, the smell of burning flesh flooding my nose. “I should leave those burns as a reminder of my answer. Let them be a deterrent to you ever coming to me again.”
I was about to protest, but I kept quiet when my brother stepped forward. His eyes were still the same, the markings on his face remained dull, yet I still found myself beginning to prepare a swift exit. His dry, cracked hands grasped the arm his whip had injured while his face showed a hint of sympathy. Much like he had done before, with a simple wave of his hand, the wounds on my arm were healed, but I could see this time the process had provided a different result.
Perhaps it was the extent of the burns he had inflicted on me this time around, but I actually felt the pain subside as the skin and muscle repaired themselves. Left behind was a red mark that reflected where Ulred’s weapon had struck me. I was upset that he had left the scarring, knowing that he could have healed me completely, but I thanked him before I caused any more harm
to myself by opening my mouth. When I went to slide my arm out of his grasp, he tightened his hold on me, and I became seriously angry with myself for flinching.
“Let this remind you that I will not heal you next time.” The hue of Ulred’s eyes grew hot again, and his black hair turned a fiery shade of red, his fingertips digging into the scar he had given me. “Let this remind you that should you come here again, I will make sure that you resemble the shapes of the nightmares you enjoy forcing on others. Even Kemryr will fear your image. Do you understand?”
I just nodded. I had no words to respond with. Not only did everyone know the unyielding power that Ulred possessed, but it appears that Ulred himself is quite aware of it too. I have no doubt in my mind that should I return, he would be true to his word. He finally let my arm go and turned his back to me like before. He took a few steps away from me and knelt, putting him in the same position he was in when I had arrived.
I wanted nothing more than to beg him just one more time to help me. To try just once more to have him see that his brother can and will return if he would only help. His worry that my plan would be discovered by our siblings or father is severely misplaced. If only he would let me explain the plan and put his worries to rest. Perhaps I could finally sway him.
Just as I was about to implore his support one final time, I remembered the pain on my arm from only a few moments ago. I remembered the white-hot, blank eyes, and glowing runes along with the heat that singed my nose; the tone of his voice when he delivered his warning. I abandoned thoughts of different angles to possibly take and decided on trying to ease the tension I had caused instead.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you, brother. If your only wish is to never see me again, then I shall grant it. Thank you for healing my burns and being so patient with me.”
I stood there for a moment, hoping that he would say something that would give me an opening to reignite the conversation and salvage this visit. Despite his fiery temper, Ulred was known to be one of the more compassionate members of my kind, perhaps my apology and thanks would sway him. Yet my kindness received no response, not even a goodbye, and so I turned away and waved my hand to reveal the realm door I had used to reach my brother’s home.
I swiftly spun around, admittedly a bit disappointed to see that my brother had not moved from his position.
“I do hope you prove me wrong. Should my brother return I will be by his side. I promise you that.”
I considered that perhaps I could use this to continue our conversation. However, my hand went to my serpentine scar, and I thought it best to accept that my time here was over. I thanked him for his good wishes and turned back towards the door I had opened. I took a step through, stopping to take a brief last glance back at Ulred. His large shoulders and back faced me yet again, his long coal-black hair strewn down his armoured back. I recalled the memory of watching him put that same armour on the day Kemryr was imprisoned, with the intention of fighting every creature in this world to save him. However, Kemryr refused to let him do so, not wishing to draw Father’s wrath on anyone else.
I remembered telling him that the blame for Kemryr’s imprisonment lay only with Father, but Ulred never stopped considering himself responsible for not saving his brother from that horrid fate they all bestowed upon my beloved. He melted his ornate silver and black armour to his body, erupting into a pillar of flame, screaming out of physical and emotional pain. He claimed he did it to remind himself of his failure that day.
I found myself pitying him as I took my trip down memory lane. Casting away the empathy I began to feel, a glance at my arm helping me do so, I walked through the door I had entered through earlier. The only thing I got from this visit was the reinforcement of what my love had told me in my early days of life all those years ago. Everyone, even the Queen of Fear herself, had a reason to fear our brother; Ulred, Master of Fire.