The Claiming by Nicole Dragonbeck

For my sister, Danielle.

It would be so much easier if she was a bitch, Christopher thought

The sisters looked up at him. One of them was a clone, a magycal reproduction of a living person, but which one? They both had the same blue eyes, the same sweet face. They both blinked at him in the same way as he started to pace. He stopped and turned to face them.

“So you both think you are the real Valeri?”

They nodded. He sighed. He could not sense an ounce of untruth in either of them. They really did think that.

“Okay,” Christopher said. “Let’s try this another way. What is the last thing you remember?”

This was directed to the girl on the left. Her, or rather, their mother, despite her hysterics, had been very practical and dressed one of them in red and the other in yellow. This one wore red, and Christopher mentally dubbed her that.

“Well,” Red began slowly. “I remember going outside. It was dark.”

Yellow nodded. “I remember that too. I was going to…”

“Going to get the milk from Hader,” Red finished.

“One at a time please,” he said. “I can’t think when you do that.”

“Sorry,” they said together.

Yellow looked distraught. “Mister, what’s going to happen to us?”

He thought about his answer long and hard. Clones were very dangerous. Made of neutral energy, they could be claimed by something evil just as easily as something pure.

“Everything is going to be fine,” Christopher said, feeling the sharp knife at his side. “Let’s try again.”

He listened to the two girls stories, once more, and again. After they fell silent for the fifth time, the girls looked at him nervously.

“What are you going to do?” Red said.

She appeared to be the calmer of the two. He tried to think if that meant anything, but then dismissed it. He knelt before them, looking them both straight in the eyes.

“I cannot have whichever of you is the clone, running unchecked and unwatched,” he said.

Red gazed at him calmly. “What if we make sure the clone is claimed by good?”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Christopher asked, intrigued. It had never occurred to him before.

“Take us to a place of good magic,” Red suggested. “We wait until you’re sure it’s safe for us to leave.”

“It’s worth a shot,” he said. “But,” he continued, “sometimes black leaks through even in the holiest places. If the clone is claimed by something evil, I must do my duty.”

“We understand,” Red said, and Yellow sniffled an agreement.

He took them into the forest, into the hallowed glade. The trees were quiet, waiting. He sat on an old stump and waited. The girls wandered about, arm in arm, whispering to each other. Then they both stopped, eyes searching. Christopher stood, blade raised.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Something is coming,” Red told him, turning her head this way and that.

Suddenly, he had knew which was the clone. I should have gone with my gut. His hand tightened on the blade.

“Girls, come to me,” he said.

Yellow obeyed at once. Red remained where she was. Wind began to grow in the trees, until they sang. Silver light shone from all around, growing brighter around her. Then it disappeared with a muffled clap. A trace remained shining in her eyes. He waited. The girl walked slowly towards them, until she stood right in front of them. Her eyes were pure silver. She smiled and spread her arms.

“If you think me tainted, strike me down now,” she said.

He reached out a hand and gripped her around the throat. Her pulse beat strong and true. She was not tainted. He gave a nod and released her. Red turned and embraced Yellow. Or Valeri, he thought.

“Return home to your mother now,” the clone told Valeri.

Valeri nodded and started off, back the way they had come. Christopher turned to go with her. He turned back to the creature which was now free in this world. And by your own hand and choice, he reminded himself. He felt he still had some responsibility for it. Or her.

“What will you do now?” he asked Red.

The claimed was thoughtful and silent. “I’m not sure,” she smiled. “Perhaps I could be of use in your line of work?”

Christopher smiled.

 

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