Story: An Uncertain Inheritance

An Uncertain Inheritance

© Tony Jonick 2007

Lillith shrugged, lifting the wide shoulders of her lilac jacket in feigned nonchalance. “As if I’d want the sword anyway.” She sighed and rolled her half-lidded gaze towards the shelved walls of the lawyer’s office.

Samael glared under his thick red brows. “Pretending you don’t care doesn’t matter anymore,” his liver-gray lips sputtered out the words. “Father is dead. The opinion of this—this functionary doesn’t matter.” He motioned dismissively towards Mr. Twist.

Lillith pursed her gray lips and lifted her sculpted red brows as she turned her head back towards to her twin. “Then let’s pretend I want The Sword of Multiplicity as much as you. Mmm, yes, There’s power in it. But what would you do with it? Steal a gold coin, keep doubling it until you can buy out some bankrupt kingdom? In six months you would be hanging in chains in your own dungeon, a prisoner of nobles whose daughters you’ve soiled.” Her words slithered in derision.

“What about you?” He grunted. “Fawning slaves to twist? Orphaned children to whip and caress as they praise you? Perhaps you’ll swap it to some flatterer for an eternal glamour! I can see you old beyond your years as some withered insect posing as an angel.” Samael turned to Mr. Twist, who was himself like some praying mantis behind his table. The lawyer, in his crop-waisted tail-coat and short black fez, dipped his head slightly.

Mr. Twist’s narrow legal office consisted almost entirely of papers and dust. Papers were piled upon dust piled upon papers—shelves and cabinets and columns of paper and dust. There were depositions from shopkeepers whose islands were lost beneath the seas; treaties between tribes of warring dinosaurs; patents for spinning straw into optical fiber. Only the enchantments of the room kept the papers from breaking down into dust, or more dangerously, the dust breaking spontaneously into paper.

“If I may present a possible solution?” His thin voice clattered upwards posing a half-question. “There is more than the sword in the listing of your father’s possessions.” He adjusted his pince-nez to focus up from the scroll of paper for a clearer look at the bickering couple, the brother and sister separable in appearance only by gender.

They waited for him to speak. Among the long-lived ones there was a cat-like patience when a possible advantage was offered. Mr. Twist scrolled the thick, mottled will in his long fingers. “Besides the lands and belongings—minor estates and major titles, motor cars, cursed jewels, etc.—there is a listing for ‘an uncertain mirror.’”

Samael snorted and tossed his head. His red hair shook in short wavelets. “As if I’d want that.”

“Another piece of dross from Father’s collection,” Lillith informed the lawyer. “Give it to some home for aging transvestites. It’s bound to give someone a laugh.” Her face, framed by her red tresses, was twisted in a sardonic smile.

“Within the purview of my offices, I took the liberty of bringing both mirror and sword with me from your father’s home.” He patted a tiny, gray envelope next to the will. Before him the siblings shifted uneasily. They eyed each other with the sour contempt of spoiled familiarity, like a spiteful married couple.

With a chitinous nail he flicked open the small envelope’s flap and drew out the large mirror by the corner. The mirror was a rudely-thick sheet of mercury-backed glass, about the size of a supermarket tabloid, framed with art-deco vines in gilded angularity. Where dusty sunbeams drifted down upon it they were reflected brightly back in a wavering-scattering of multiple colors, like tropical fish swimming through a coral reef. “I do have some papers detailing accounts of previous owners,” Mr. Twist informed them, setting the mirror on a stand facing the couple. “What your father called, ‘an uncertain mirror,’ I believe was called—” he let out a series of screeching, clawing sounds that hung in the air. “That is, ‘the Mirror of Opposition.’ It was infused with power several thousand years ago by a Brother in an order of Tormentors. His writings are to my left if you wish to see them.”

“We did enjoy looking into this once,” Samael spoke with an evaporating wistfulness. “When we were children.” His eyes were turned away from it, as were his sister’s.

“What good is a mirror that tells a lie?” Lillith asked. When she turned to look directly into it she saw her face twisted into wretched maleness. It was her brother’s face staring back at her. In the reflection the brother and sister’s positions were reversed, showing themselves in each other’s place. They appeared to be sitting cross-legged in a meadow on a summer’s afternoon, a field of wildflowers extending in each direction. The sight made her ill with loathing. She remembered other things they used to do in front of this mirror, trying to shock each other. As adolescents it had amused them both to watch themselves, as each other, perform explorations and commit violations upon each other’s bodies. The each still bore the scars of caresses and piercings.

“Until the mirror, I had been confused by the particular phrasing of the will.” Mr. Twist broke her reverie, spreading his hands wide over the paper. “Your father left everything to his only natural-born child.”

“What!” Samael barked, starting up in the chair. “Twist, enough vagaries. This will is a yard long. What exactly does it say?” He snatched the paper from the lawyer and looked it over, his lips working as he read.

Lillith stood and stepped next to him. In the mirror, the reflection showed Samael rising, stepping over to the reading Lillith. Butterflies floated around the flowers at their shins.

“This is a mistake!” Lillith snapped. “‘I, Ganiel, also known as the Prince of the Bronze Mountains, Lord of the Glass realms, leave all of my titles and belongings, listed below—to my only natural born child.’ This is ridiculous! There are obviously two of us.”

“So I thought,” Mr. Twist nodded. “Until the mirror.

“We all know about the sword’s unique abilities,” he continued. He opened the small envelope again and this time drew out a long, thin, white blade of Middle-Eastern appearance, about three cubits long. He held it with one hand, edge up, on his blotter. He lifted a tiny ginger nut cookie from the cloisonné bowl on his desk, and ran it along the razor edge of the sword. With a slicing sound, two complete ginger cookies now sat on the desk, one on each side of the blade. “The Sword of Multiplicity.” He lay the blade flat.

Lillith began to chuckle lightly. “But do you know the history of the sword, Mr. Twist?” She stepped away from her brother and sat on the edge of the table near the lawyer. She slowly ran her finger along the flat of the sword, tracing out the intricate seals. Her lilac nail was reflected in the bright metal. “We all know the story about King Solomon. How he was presented with a child and two mothers who each claimed it. Solomon proposed cutting the child in half. One mother clutched her heart, while the other claimant, enemy of the true mother, was delighted. Solomon knew which was the real mother and gave her the baby. The false mother was taken away in chains. From stories like that, the proles declared Solomon was wise.

“Of course, my dear Mr. Twist,” she purred, “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than that. He was perhaps the greatest human magician ever. The problem of the child gnawed at him. Any ass could threaten to slice a baby. The problem lay in appeasing both mothers. He wondered what it would be like to see the same child raised by two women—one who adored him and one who despised him. The ultimate nature vs. nurture experiment. And so he—” She suddenly paled and looked at the blade. “He made the sword of—” She turned towards her brother, her pointless attempt at kittenish seduction forgotten.

“By all that twists and bites...” Samael was pale as well. “Nature vs. Nurture.”

“And so the mirror,” Mr. Twist nodded. “I believe your father only had one natural child. After he used the sword to make the two of you, he put one through the mirror. A boy—or a girl—in opposition to the other. He could witness for himself a variation on Solomon’s theme.”

The man and woman stared at each other. Mr. Twist could see the thoughts running through their heads—their identical thoughts. “I do not know which of you is the original. You both are, I suppose, just one is a different gender.”

Their silence continued as they approached each other suspiciously. They lifted their warm hands uncertainly and pressed them together, their identical fingerprints meeting. They stood close, staring at each other with a curiosity they hadn’t felt in many years.

Mr. Twist’s dry voice rasped. “However, while entertaining, this does not settle the matter of the will. He leaves everything to his child.”

The two faces hardened at once.

“And I do not allow violence in my office.”

They turned to him as one. “What do you suggest?” was sneered out.

The lawyer stood and picked up the sword, letting the point hang. He stepped in front of the mirror, raising it towards the glass, off-angled from perpendicular. The steel reflected off the mirror which reflected off the steel. Oddly, the lawyer’s reflection was only of his stick-thin self in his tailed jacket, his room surrounding him like a cloud. Despite his drawn angularity, he held the long sword lightly, as if it weighed as little as a lath of wood. As he plunged the sword into the glass, it’s reflection slid silently out, at an equal and opposite angle. With a flick of his hand he threw the hilt into the mirror and caught the reflected hilt as it exited. He held it up, looking along it’s high length at the seals, twisted inside out from their original configuration.

“The Sword of Singularity,” he said softly, and brought it down swiftly between the two siblings.

The child of Ganiel, Prince or Princess of the Bronze Mountains, Lord and Lady of the Glass realms, heir to the possessions, stood before Mr. Twist. It’s medium-long red hair flowed in waves alongside it’s face. Depending on the angle of the light its features were delicate or defined, soft-skinned or hard. It looked at itself in the mirror and saw only itself.

“You’ve taken a terrible risk doing this,” the heir said. “Even if we—I—reverse the sword, I don’t see how we could separate ourselves. Just make copies, or now, identical reflections.” It contemplated itself, proud and spiteful at once. “If we are not pleased with this form, I may decide to destroy you.”

Mr. Twist opened his hands. “As you will. But I had an obligation to my client to deliver his goods to his child. My duty is done.” He re-opened the envelope and inserted the sword and mirror. “The keys to your estates are also within. I have my fee. Thank you for your patronage.”

The lawyer delicately ushered the heir from his office. The simple wooden door opened onto the echoing basement of a parking garage, where two sports cars waited. The door’s outer side, sheathed in painted steel, read “Electrical Panel Access.”

As the heir stood, determining which car to take, Mr. Twist grasped the purple glass doorknob on the outside of the door. With a scrape of sparks, he removed it, leaving the steel unmarred. Inside his office he closed the door severing the connection between this office and the garage. His next client would use another handle on another door, and step into the office.

Without any sound but the padding of his feet, Mr. Twist stepped back to his desk, folded the will, and lay it upon a dusty pillar of paper. He then proceeded to eat both ginger cookies.



© Tony Jonick 2013