Arius was washing dishes when I confronted him next. “Are you feeling any better? Are you ready to continue our discussion now?” He asked drying his hands. I saw that he meant to put aside his work and give me his undivided attention and I was simultaneously pleased and frightened. We sat down together at the table.
“You said that Zagan’s objectives were in opposition to yours. Does that mean…” I looked down at my hands it seemed too terrible a thing to say out loud. “That he kills the children who come here?” I asked my voice buckling under the weight of my words.
Arius’ face fell, each word that passed my lips seemed to fall upon him like a physical assault. He wilted in his chair. “He feeds them to the creature in the woods or so I am given to believe. I have never actually seen him commit these atrocities.” His brows knitted together and I could see that there was a conflict at work behind his eyes.
“Do you think that he can be made to understand the value of human life?” I asked trying to swallow my own revulsion and hatred lest my listener bare the brunt of that persecution. Whatever Arius and his brother were they were not human and so I could not reasonably expect them to share my values and yet Arius had demonstrated countless times his capacity for compassion. He was not like his brother and I refused to classify him as such. As for his brother I knew not wholly how to temper my feelings except in consideration for my audience.
“I don’t know…” He admitted but something in his eyes said that he was exhausted and disheartened by his previous efforts. Something told me that he had spoken to his brother and then I recalled his long, unexplained absences. At the time I had assumed those absences were for the benefit of my privacy or his but now I wondered if their meaning might be deeper.
“Can you overpower him?” I asked I had never known Arius to be a violent man and the idea seemed almost too ridiculous to propose. Even if it were so how could I ask Arius to attack his own brother, to kill him if need be? I would never ask this of him and yet my cause weighed so heavily upon me that I could not help but inquire about his power of which I knew so little. Arius did have powers of this there could be no doubt but he rarely used them and this I imagined he did for my benefit. I do not think he could live with himself if I ever came to fear him.
“We are evenly matched…” He answered. His expression was pained and I saw that his fingers had flexed inwardly stopping just short of a fist. We had lived together as the only two people in the world for so long that I had memorized all of his expressions. When it was his own discomfort he took it in stride but this was not so for the things that brought me pain, those things he felt much more deeply.
“So you have fought?” I asked gripping the front of my robe as if it might satisfy the twinge of guilt I felt then. The guilt persisted and my fingers tightened in response.
“Mostly with words but yes physically as well…it always ends in a draw.” He answered his eyes focused weightily upon me. “What do you intend? I must advise that you do not to challenge him outright.” As much as I might have wished it I had seen evidence of Arius’ strength, stamina, and speed and I could not match him in any respect. How could I hope to defeat his equal, an equal not softened by morality?
“I am not suicidal…” I rubbed the back of my head nervously. I knew very well my limitations and I had longed abandoned the idea of death as a solution. “Can I meet with him?” I asked knowing that I asked too much of my companion but banking on the fact that he would humor my selfishness.
“You will hear his words for yourself…” He nodded solemnly and then after a period of consideration he looked at me again resignedly. “I will accompany you…” He said and on this point I knew that he would suffer no objections. I patted his hand in what I hoped was a reassuring manner and tried to smile at him but in the end I only managed a strait line. “We will set off tomorrow then.”