Mist curled over the the rocky ground, floating over the gods of Death and Sleep. They were seated near a sluggish river with willows growing along the banks. The ground before them was covered in Greek letters, several hieroglyphs and what might have been a Cyrillic death symbol. Two bodies lay in between the roots of the nearest willow, a small, mangled looking six year old and a lumpy clay approximation of a person. Thanatos was painting a few last tiny letters on the clay body, muttering under his breath. Hypnos looked at the uneven clay with a critical eye.
"Are you sure that body's made right?"
Thanatos scowled, making a visible effort not to snap at him.
"Yes, brother. I'm sure the body's correct. Now can we move on with the ceremony?"
Hypnos wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. Thanatos continued to glare at him.
"What? I'm being quiet like you asked," Hypnos said after a few uncomfortable moments. "I'm sorry I questioned your vast stores of knowledge okay."
Thanatos sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
"The flask first, if you please."
Hoping this was a sign of forgiveness, Hypnos picked up a delicate silver goblet and dipped it into the river. When he pulled it out it was full to the brim with phosphorescent water. Thanatos took it, careful not to spill its contents. The glowing contents cast eerie shadows on his face, giving it a mask-like, almost sinister appearance.
"And you're sure its pure?" he asked, a rare note of playfulness in his voice. Hypnos was taken aback, his brother was usually so serious it bordered on fanaticism. His tone seemed wildly out of place given their current location. Hypnos suppressed a shudder as a faint wail echoed across the caverns.
"Oh come one, you act like you've never hear me tell a joke before," Thanatos said as he tilted the girl's head back and poured the water down her throat as gently as he could manage, seemingly unaware of his brother's discomfort. The girl coughed, trying to turn her head away from the goblet. Thanatos looked mildly surprised by her strength; most six year olds didn't fair as well when a building was dropped on them.
"I-well, yes. I-I have. But it's usually gallows humor," Hypnos said, keeping his eyes fixed on the girl. Her condition worried him a good deal. He'd done as much as he could to dull the pain but he wasn't sure it had been enough. Sweat beaded her brow and her skin had a greenish cast to it, though that could just be from the ambient glow of the River Styx; it stained everything a sickly shade of green. He shivered, pulling his cloak a little tighter. Styx always gave him an uneasy feeling. It was where spirits left their dreams after death, not at all a place for the god of sleep. The same could be said for the rest of the Underworld, excepting the little corner he called his own of course. It felt as if the very air here was suffused with melancholy. Hypnos shook his head, trying to drive the unease from his mind, reminding himself that he had a job to do. Discomfort could wait.
"What should we do next?"
Thanatos drew his sword in answer.
"First I need you to trap her soul, make sure it can't get away. We'll put it in the clay form after that. Just be ready on my signal."
"Hold on, you want me to try and trap a soul? I ca-"
"Before you tell me you can't answer me this: What gate will make this dream come true?"
Hypnos stared at his brother, utterly lost.
"What do you-"
"Which gate. Horn or Ivory? It's a simple enough question." Thanatos looked impatient.
"Horn, but what does that have to do with this?" Hypnos glanced over at the clay body, vainly hoping it might give him some answers. Then it dawned on him.
"You mean to tell me you're going to bind her soul to a body through dreams! Have you lost your mind? No dream is powerful enough to bring back the dead."
Thanatos sighed, gesturing at himself with the sword.
"I am a god of death, remember? When it comes to souls I can do almost anything I want. I just need the Gate of Horn to make sure the binding will stick. I've never tried to create life before but dreams will most certainly give me the power I need to do so."
"Embodied life that is," Hypnos muttered under his breath. He glanced furtively up at his brother to make sure he hadn't heard. Sisyphus was still a sore spot, even after all these centuries. It Thanatos had heard he gave not indication.
" Just make sure the spirit doesn't fly off to the judging pavilion," Thanatos said. Then he swept his sword through the girl's body. She gasped then went limp, all the tension draining from her body. Hypnos stopped himself from looking away, almost missing the sould as it came free from its body. It was like holding onto a live fish. The soul flailed about, trying to get free, forcing Hypnos to tighten his grip. He wrestled it into the clay body and held it there, feeling as if it was going to break free any moment. Thanatos placed his hands over his brother's, holding the soul down without any apparent effort.
"Let go, I've got it. We need to get her through the Gate. After that it's all cosmetic details." he said, glancing over at his brother. Hypnos nodded, trying to ignore the high pitched whine the soul was emitting, as he guided his brother too the Gates of Horn and Ivory.
Two figures appeared out of nothingness in the predawn light. They stood at the end of the drive, looking up at the remains of a two story house, as if there was nothing more unusual here than an untied shoelace. They made their way wordlessly up to the house, making sure that their freshly pressed robes didn't catch on the debris as the entered what was left of the door. Both were trying to cultivate an air of nonchalance, one with markedly more success. The other kept fingering the embossed badge on his robefront, running a thumb other the letters M.O.M. Lying before them in the hall, by now rather stiff and cold, were two dead bodies.
"Damn shame really," the nervous man said, looking fixedly at the corpses. "I knew them, when they worked in Research. Never thought they'd end up like this."
His companion snorted, unable to look directly at the bodies.
"Some would say they got what they deserved, stealing important secrets from the Ministry." He didn't sound convinced, however. The nervous man frowned but didn't say anything.
"Help me find their notes, alright. That's what we came here for, not to stand around oogling b-bodies," his colleague said, glancing around at the wrecked house.
"It's not right to just leave them out like this. Someone should give them a decent burial."
"WE don't have time. The muggles will find this place eventually, they'll see to it. Now help me find their notes; this place gives me the creeps."
The nervous man nodded slowly but made an effort to arrange the man and woman into a more natural position. If it hadn't been for their fearful expressions, they might have been sleeping. He sighed and went to work, shifting a beam that had fallen across the remains of a door-frame.
"Come look at this!" he called, staring disbelievingly into the room beyond.
"What? Did you find something?" the other man asked, hurrying over. His gasped when he saw what was in the other room. Curled cat-like in a mass of fallen brick and plaster was a girl. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully, unharmed and unaware of the destruction around her.
"Merlin's beard," he breathed. " I didn't think they'd had... Did you know, Harris?" he asked weakly. The nervous man, Harris, shook his head. He pushed his way carefully through the broken doorway, kneeling down and lifting her gently in his arms.
"What are we going to do?" We can't leave her here for the muggles to find, she one of our kind. Got to be, with parents like the Winters." He glanced down at her, a troubled expression on his face. "She looks like my oldest, Susan."
"The Ministry will take care of her. They'll make her a ward. It's been done before."
"What, give her a pat on the head and send her off to some orphanage until it's time for her to go to school?" Harris sounded more tired than bitter. "That doesn't hardly seem fair."
"I know," his colleague said. "I wish we could give her a proper family too. Come on, we should go."
Harris looked surprised.
"What about the notes?"
His colleague looked torn for a moment, then he sighed.
"We didn't find anything. They must have been destroyed with the house. Hell, we probably won't find them even if we did look. Let's just get her back."
There was a crack like a whip and the three of them vanished.
A pale sun rose over the horizon, falling on the ruined house and staining it a pale red. Police cars pulled to a halt in front of the house, their drivers spilling out to survey the scene. The concerned neighbor who had called them craned over the garden fence, watching the proceedings Nestled amongst the piles of rubble, ignored by all, a stuffed bear stared up at the sky. A pale hand lifted it gently from its resting place, cradling it absently. Hypnos sighed as he leaned back against the pile of bricks, invisible to all who passed.
"Too bad she didn't take you with," he said absently, watching the muggle officers scurry around the bodies. "Pasithia might like you, I suppose." And with that he vanished, leaving only a long stemmed poppy flower in his wake, a last gift to the dead.'
The spirit smiled as he surveyed his handy work, absently wiping blood from its face. An hour ago there had been a village here, now there was only a stand of deserted houses. The blood splattered across the walls was the only indication there had ever been people here. Only one person remained, cowering in the market square. His skin was lighter than any of the erstwhile villagers, something the spirit had not seen for so long. Long enough ago that it might have still been alive, back before it had known about wizards.
Why have you come here? The spirit asked in a reedy whisper. The man shook, fear paralyzing his vocal cords. The spirit waited as patiently as it could. It wondered whether it should have just killed him with the others, wizard or not.
"I—I came with an expedition. We only—we didn't meant to-"
Silence. The spirit hissed. I did not spare your life to listen to you stammer. Give me one reason why I should not kill you now. Be quick wizard, I have waited years for my revenge and I will not wait much longer!
The man paled visibly but seemed to get a handle on himself. At last he was no longer trembling like a palm frond.
"I can help you. Get your revenge I mean. I could help."
The spirit laughed, high and rough like a desert wind.
You help me? Why should I trust you wizardling? You're kind are treacherous. My current form is proof of that. Why should I trust you? Speak quickly. I must find the ones who disturbed me before I can kill them.
A look of cunning came into the man's eyes. He sat up, brushing sand from his robes.
"If you're talking about the people who dug up that tomb a few miles east of here I can help. They are – were my colleagues. I know where they live. I could take you to them, if you wanted." There was a hungry look on the man's face, one the spirit found most entertaining. It appeared that the man wanted to get back at his so-called colleagues as much as the spirit did.
You will take me to them? It asked. The man nodded. Then you will have no objections to sharing a body?
"I—What? What do you mean?" The panic was back but it was underscored by a burning hatred, one that might rival the spirit's own.
It is simple wizardling. I will take your body under my control and we will both get what we want. Surely you wish those false friends of yours dead. All we need do is work together. The spirit extended a pearlescent hand. The man regarded it wearily before holding out his own.
"Does anything special need to happen?" he asked, looking a little uncertain. The man's question was answered within seconds. The spirit enveloped him with a look of glee on its transparent face. It seeped into him like so much freezing mist, making him gag on the taste of musty cloth and decayed flesh. There was a brief moment of struggle but the spirit overpowered the man's will. In the space of a second the man went from terrified to overjoyed. He smirked, examining his hands, closing them around an invisible throat.
"You will do quite nicely," the spirit said aloud. "Quite nicely indeed.