Andelon stirred as he heard the voice. He allowed his eyes to open, assaulting his vision with a sliver of hazy light.
"Ah, so you're awake!" the voice said happily. "Get up, I'm serious, this is important."
Andelon flicked his tail and rolled over in defiance.
"I'm serious, too, Gwit, it's a might bit early for games," he said.
Gwit straddled his brother and pulled open one of Andelon's eyes.
"Argh! Get off!" A slight tussle, resulting in Gwit chuckling and Andelon sitting on his bedding, a collection of old fleece jackets and cotton garments. His paws rubbed his yellow eyes, and his whiskers twitched as he wriggled his nose, acquiring the day's smell. He was young for a rat, his whiskers not quite to his chin, and no beard. Gwit, by contrast, was practically ancient for this day & age. Not many lived to middle-age, especially not rats. Despite his seniority, the older rat had a much more light-hearted, if not somewhat malicious, way about him than his brother.
Andelon looked at Gwit. "Well? What's so bloody important, then? I don't smell any food.."
Gwit's eyes gleamed. "Sorry, brother, no morsels for now," Andelon snorted. "Just come with me, it's not far, you've really got to see this."
The younger rat grunted and gathered up his travel cloak and his pack, which contained all the material possesions he had, and gestured for Gwit to lead the way.
The two rat brothers stepped out of the current hovel they were habitating. Gwit, like a child on holiday, just walked lightly along, humming, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. Not that they weren't used to the ruined buildings, the burnt-out husks of what could have been automobiles, the oil-barrels still smoking from the prior evening's fires.
They lived in the remnants of a city, whose name was long forgotten by most of its inhabitants. Most of them were born into this place from parents who were also natives to this desolate environment. Legends say that it was once a bustling metropolis of technology, mana, & prosperity, brought down by a Great Destruction of unknown origin. Some theorized a war, others divine force. Others blame the lights in the sky, and the strange happenings that rumour carries from far beyond the city's limits, and say that it was never a city, merely a landfill, a place for those other beings to dispose of their unwanted things.Still, most believed that generations past, this was a utopia, where mana flowed freely, and the people lived well. Now mana is so scarce that many believe it to be a myth from legend. Most rat-people were partial to this belief, and have instead turned to artifice and recovery of old technology, but not Gwit.Gwit held firm that there was mana somewhere in the world, if not in the City, then beyond it, in the unknown. He had traversed the ruins most of his adult life looking for a safe way out, but had not found one.
"Where are we going, Gwit?" demanded Andelon. They had been walking for a little while now, and the younger rat had lost his patience."Not far, now, little brother, just around this corner," replied Gwit.
"I thought it wasn't supposed to be far to begin with! If this is another one of your stupid-" Gwit held out his hand, cutting Andelon off."We're here," said Gwit.
They were standing before yet another ruined structure, but this one had a different architecture, an aura about it that revealed an age far greater than any other the rat brothers had yet encountered. There was a wide stair leading to a large, arched doorway that apparently housed double doors, but only one remained, barely on the hinges.
"It's in here"
Andelon felt his fur raise along his spine, he unconciously stiffened his tail.
"What is?" he asked, suddenly apprehensive.
"I really can't tell you, you just have to see it," said Gwit, stepping over the threshold into the shadows of the building.
Andelon followed him in. Apparently this place had been some sort of gathering hall, for there was a great open chamber with long benches, some obviously missing or out of place. There was some kind of raised platform at the far end of the hall, and a couple arched doorways on each side.
"What is this place?" asked Andelon.
"I don't know, little brother, I came across it a few days ago," Gwit said. "I felt... Drawn to it somehow, like it called to me."
Andelon did not like it when his brother spoke this way. It usually meant some sort of useless and risky undertaking was about to take place.
"So I've been exploring it," Gwit continued, "and last night I saw something.. Well, felt, rather than saw, but, well... I think I found something, it's through this door, and down these stairs." They had made their way towards the platform and were standing before an open door.
Andelon sighed, but he could not deny the light in his brother's eyes and the odd energy of this place.
"Alright, then, let's go, show it to me!" he said in a huff.
Gwit grinned, and pulled a torch from his pack, lighting it with some flint.
They descended the stairs carefully, for they were slick and moist with mildew. The smell of decay grew strong in their nostrils. By the time they reached the bottom, all of their senses were overwhelmed with the sensation of rot.
"This place is disgusting!" said Andelon, looking at the floor, ankle deep in muck. Strange, pallid plants and fungus seemed to be struggling for life throughout the chamber. "What could possibly be down here that's so damned special? What're you about, Gwit?"
Gwit wasn't listening, just moving purposefully towards the far wall of the room, where a small altar sat, carved out of the living rock.Andelon followed, not wishing to be left out of the torchlight, despite his keen eyes.
Gwit handed his brother the torch, and placed his paws upon the altar, and bowed his head. After a moment of silence, the very air seemed to vibrate, the walls & altar teemed with palpable energy! Andelon looked to his brother, eyes & mouth wide, for climbing up his brother's arms were what appeared to be black swirls of light, or a thick, glowing smoke. Andelon could hardly comprehend what was happening when his brother looked up from the altar at him, eyes glowing.
"Gwit! I gotta say, that this is damned weird!"
"Do you know what his is, brother?" Gwit's voice sounded different, hollow, yet powerful. "This is the mythical life energy of the planet!"
Andelon just gaped, overwhelmed.
"Don't you see, Andelon? I've found it! It's real!"
"But, what, no.."
Gwit moved away from the altar, the black smoke luminesence still circling his arms and paws.
"Just think, we can use this power however we see fit, we can re-make this place into our own image! We can do whatever we want!"
Andelon didn't believe in mana, but he knew something was definitely happening here. "I don't know, Gwit, you're not sounding yourself.."
"I feel more myself than ever, this stuff awakens a power within me I never knew I had! I feel as if I could snuff out a life easily as a torch, take on any rat or Kithkin, or any other being! I can do whatever I want," said Gwit grinning.
"Well," said Andelon, "Can you conjure food? Or ease hunger? Or anything useful to anyone else?"
"I'm sure I can ease my hunger, brother."
With that, Gwit stretched an open paw to his brother's chest, and Andelon felt himself diminishing, almost like his life-force was being sucked into his brother's outstretched hand! As he looked into Gwit's face, Andelon realized that was exactly what was happening. Gwit's grey streaks of fur were darkening, his face filling. Although Andelon couldn't see it, the opposite was happening to him.
Using what strength he still had, Andelon brought the torch down swiftly upon his brother's arm, breaking the connection.
"What are you about?!" he screamed.
"I can see that I'm not going to get anywhere with you around, brother," said Gwit, looking a little tired, but younger and healthier than he had in years. "It's time we go our seperate ways, I think."
Andelon could not wrap his around what was happening, but he was angry, tired, and felt old. He had a distinct feeling that his brother had been planning this all along, and that he was probably not going to leave the chamber alive. He tossed the torch to his other paw, drew a large dagger from his belt, and charged at his brother, ready to kill or be killed.
Andelon managed to plunge the blade into Gwit's abdomen, but the black mana sucked the life from Andelon, so that even as Gwit bled, Andelon's life force put more blood into the older rat's body. Eventually Gwit was able to shove his younger brother off of him, and pull out the dagger.
As Andelon was slipping into unconciousness, he saw the wound close up. He saw his brother's face leaning towards him. Gwit looked as young as Andelon remembered when he was a child. For one moment, Andelon felt as if he were that child again, and his big brother was leaning down to pick him up from a fall, to comfort him with words of encouragement. He reached out his arms to receive his brother's embrace.
Gwit looked down at his younger brother, now looking older than their parents would be. He saw the look in his eyes, the reaching out. Gwit positioned the knife against Andelon's wrinkled throat.
The blade hardly made a sound, and Andelon passed with only a little more.
Gwit was more than a little sad, but it would be worth it. He took the bloody dagger to the altar, and let his brother's blood drip upon the stone. Gwit had tasted power, and he liked it. He wanted more of it. He needed more.