It was grey, and large, towering out of rocky black ground. Broken branches littered the ground, like twisted bones. The house lent an aura of forbidding, almost unreal with a single lamp gleamed in a high window. Coupled with the overcast sky, and ashen clouds, it was a picture of lifelessness.
Kiroyn walked toward the house reluctantly, her boots clanging against the cobbles. Her fingers twitched at her hip, though rationally, she knew there was no danger. The stairs were rickety and badly cared for, but they were substantial and that relieved some of the unease she carried.
She knocked, three times, and waited, feeling a chill in her shoulder blades. Presently the door opened and a woman's voice rasped. "Are you Kiroyn Thaken of Drend?"
"I am." To Kiroyn, her voice sounded shaky, a tremor racing along the syllables.
The woman opened the door wide enough for her to step into the relative sanctity of the house. "Welcome. Your sister waits."
"How is she?" Kiroyn asked, knowing the answer.
"She's dying." The woman said matter-of-factly, her years haggard on her face. "But she refuses to yield to Death until she speaks to you." She held out a stubby candle. "Third door upstairs."
Kiroyn ascended, steadfast in her pace. The third door was open, her sister propped upon a bed. "Diedre?" She could not reconcile the image of the sister she had known with the wraith in front of her. Her luscious golden-red locks had withered in colour to a sullen red and hung limp. The expressive lilac eyes she had known were long forgotten in her face.
"You've come." The was the faintest of smiles across that pale face. "I knew you would. Do you know of my folly?" Her words were formal, whatever closeness the sisters had once shared, it was dissolved now.
"You fled from Laen - he searches still."
"That is the least of it. I sense the disapproval, sister. Laen is a man, and only a man. I was a priestess, for only a short time but I am still not fit to serve man. The days of the moon and the silver goddess are gone. It is a world of fire, now. I could never wield a weapon - I cannot love a sword the way you do. This was my only course and I shall not survive it." Diedre coughed weakly.
"Laen loves you."
"And it was my duty to love him. But, unfortunately, love knows no duty. My greatest mistake, however, lies in that cradle."
Kiroyn noticed for the first time the rough-hewn cradle beside the bed. She lifted the covers. "Twins - how?" The infant faces were identical, both babes were small.
"I loved their father dearly. I could not part with a single piece of him."
"But they are - " abominations - She broke off, not willing to use such words in the presence of her sister, no matter how wrong she was. "Diedre, no one was meant to share his or her soul. Twins are forbidden with good reason - these could end up demons or worse. Why did you not let the priest take one."
"The priest was not there when I birthed. I am no fool, I could tell the difference between one heart or two beating in my womb."
Kiroyn could not think of anything left to say.
"But you must do me a favor, dear sister, as my final wish." Diedre raised a skeletal hand to prevent Kiroyn from speaking. "You must raise them. Take them to someplace beyond the Sun Lord's reach. Their father must live on in them."
Kiroyn opened her mouth soundlessly a couple of times, "Who was he?"
Diedre shook her head. "No. No one shall ever know. Perhaps it would be best if my babes did not know even my name. Promise me that you will guard them."
Kiroyn looked at her for a few long moments. Then she fought against everything that her heart was telling her. "I promise."
"Good. Take them. Let me die in peace, alone."