Andrey Stamatin wasn’t necessarily a creature of habit. He had a hatred of routines and procedures, a longstanding disregard for authority, and a mean streak a mile wide. When things were the same for too long, his mind felt like it was in a cage, forced to arduously slow down to a crawl and focus on the smallest most mundane tasks left as his brain rocketed at speeds tenfold the necessary amount for it.
He prided himself on knowing most of the details and goings-on of the town, something that blessedly gave his mind something else to invest in since the completion of him and his brothers most recent project, the Polyhedron, five years prior. While an otherworldly miracle of a structure, it was not by far their most controversial, as some of theirs prior had wound up getting them death sentences in at least four separate countries, including the country they were born in. Being on the run escaping those countries had suited them, giving them the high paced adrenaline rush they craved every day.
That was before this town, and before the Polyhedron. After its completion, and of course after a celebration thrown by the brothers so intense that Peter had woken with forty-thousand rubles in his pockets, while Andrey had roused in a dumpster with two men and a woman he had never seen before, his entire body sore for weeks. It had been a good sore though, and he had offered the first one to awaken a job of being his new barkeep, which the man accepted. All of that had quickly faded when Peter approached him later that day, teary eyed and shaking, to tell him that he couldn’t seem to enter his Polyhedron. The had spent the next few day both trying to get in, truly in, not just atop, the building. Andrey had stomped and screamed and eventually, to his inner dismay, begged the Polyhedron as Peter lay in a pile hyperventilating from a loss that the man knew would never be fully understood.
Things had been different after that, different than they ever had been. Peter cut himself off, not just from people and his twin, but seemingly from his very own being. He had packed his things and moved in to a building across the district, leaving behind their shared apartment, one of many in the building above the Broken Heart, Andrey had pointed out in an attempt to at least keep his twin in the same location as he. Suddenly, the older twin had to learn how to be alone for the first time in his life. Maybe, just maybe, that was what led to him crashing on the bars many sofas or spending a good portion of the long nights captured in heated embraces of all types, whether they came from shopkeepers, laborers, a tax collector (who cut him a fantastic deal afterwards), even a self-proclaimed king of the town’s underground once or twice. If he wasn’t careful, though, they would always try to get too close, which was decidedly not what he was looking for. He wasn’t made for things like that, not the kind tenderness they all eventually tried to incorporate in their nights, he was barely made at all. He was only half a being who was never even taught how to function as a single entity, but now his wholeness had been ripped away.
They didn’t even look exactly alike anymore, he had once realized, which sent him directly into some type of attack at the loss of something that had been so deeply ingrained in him and his identical brother. Peter had become gaunt, paler and scragglier than he ever had been, his hair laying limp and unwashed at his shoulders. He had developed a mean hold on any alcohol he could reach, and when Andrey began profiting off of the Steppe peoples drink, a near hallucinogenic burning herbal mix, his brother had then turned to that in a frenzy. If anything good had come from that, it was that Peter would usually have to come to his establishment to stock up on bottles. He never made his brother pay, he figured he owed him that much.
Regardless, he was not a creature of habit, which is why he was excited about how, very recently, the town had been changing rapidly. After all, molding himself into new positions in order to best survive was something he did well.
It had initially started with the death of the elder Burakh, the towns beloved doctor indigenous to the Steppe, and technically the only man allowed to cut flesh (not that it ever stopped Andrey). The Kin were saddened, but they had different views on death, whereas the townsfolk had been enraged, fights erupting even before someone started the rumor of a Shabnak-Adyr having killed him, which did exactly what most rumors he was familiar with would often strive for, instilled paranoia and set about witch hunts. Then, the elder Kain had died, a man said to be immortal winding up with his body mangled and cold. Amidst the chaos of all that, three people had arrived in town.
One was a young girl dressed in shabby clothes, words such as demon and unholy and miracle following behind her. She had a stillness to her that, although he would never admit it, wholly unnerved him and he was thankful he had only ever seen her once from a distance. Another was a town and steppe native, son of the murdered Burakh no less. Words didn’t follow him, he followed them, painting his path as a hulking beast with a crippled leg and hunched back, voice like an earthquake and a face like thunder, a murderer reeking of blood and dirt who supposedly committed patricide. Apparently also a skilled surgeon, but people didn’t focus on that so neither did Andrey.
The last, however, was familiar and the reason he found himself lounging outside of the Broken Heart. One bachelor of medicine, Daniil Dankovsky, a short man with a shorter temper and nonexistent patience, and an old friend from university. They had met while both studying medicine, before Andrey had changed his major to architecture, and fought side by side in neither of theirs first bar fight, though definitely memorable. Andrey let out a scoffing laugh at the memory of Daniil using any surface available, at one point even using Andrey’s back as he had been bent down in a chokehold, to get the higher ground in order to launch himself at whichever opponent closest. The man even fought like a snake, twisting and striking at a speed the drunks couldn’t process. He, and many of the other students at the bar that night, had learned to not underestimate the small Dankovsky.
The distant movement of an utterly ridiculous coat caught his attention from where he had stood leaned against the building and he straightened, bouncing on his heels, clenching and unclenching his fists. Not many people in town wore black, and this figure was fully decked in it, from their boots to their short, trimmed hair, not to mention the horrendous attempt at trendy coat that had-
“Snakeskin?” Andrey hissed incredulously, grin splitting his face as he bounded forward eagerly before remembering where (and who) he was and setting a more collected yet determined pace towards the man.
He shadowed him for a few moments until Daniil turned down an alleyway, undoubtedly heading somewhere his mind had deemed “scientifically important”, and if Andrey knew his nosey friend, likely towards the elder Burakh’s house. He picked up the pace until he was only ten feet from the man and flicked out his knife, widening his grin into something sadistic. He made no attempt to alter his voice as he growled.
“Face that wall and empty all those pockets, pretty boy.” Daniil flinched, his shoulders jerking up to his ears as he froze momentarily. A breath, two, and the man gained enough courage and sense of recognition to hesitantly reply.
“An-drey?!?” Daniil ended in a near screech as he turned and was faced with the sight of a definite Andrey lunging at him, knife at the ready and plunging towards his throat. At the last moment he stopped, pulling away with a laugh at the terrified shock, then annoyed displeasure that tore across Daniil’s face. The slighter man crossed his arms, valiantly fighting to regain his composure. “And just what the hell was that for?”
“I missed you, friend!” Andrey punctuated his sentence with a slap to the man’s arm, then stopped, gazing at him. Daniil seemed to only be a few inches shorter than him, when last they saw each other he had been an entire six inches below him. He glanced down and- there.
Bouncing slightly Andrey raised his eyes from what seemed for all the world to be platform boots up to Dankovsky’s eyes. “What are you wearing? You going apple picking later, little boy?”
“I don’t need to take this from you,” the man answered, turning away to leave before adding in a voice that tried it’s very best to sound disinterested, “tell your brother I said hello, if he’s around.”
“Oh, Peter’s around all right.” He slunk up to the man, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “How about you come back with me to my fine establishment so we can catch up? Unless you want to go stick your nose in places it might get cut off, that is.”
Daniil let out a suffering sigh before allowing himself to be led back to the Broken Heart and eventually down onto one of its sofas. At the man’s incessant insistence, he regaled Andrey with how he came to the town, summoned from the elder Burakh and tempted with the thought of studying the local immortal. Both of which, naturally, died moments before his arrival. Andrey in turn told him of Peter and his Polyhedron, and of their other shared accomplishments. It was growing late, and Daniil was getting fidgety, so Andrey clapped his shoulder and pulled him to his feet.
“It’s great to have you around, friend, and great catching up. Now I’ve got to start closing up, by which I mean getting out these drunks and welcoming in the new crowd. Constant fresh business, that way.” He carried on past Daniil’s confused interjection of ‘isn’t the bar closed?’ as he looked around the empty room. “Shame about old Kain and elder Burakh, but there’s definitely more weird people you can study in this town.”
“Sure,” Daniil rolled his eyes, “like the other Vorakh? Ran into him earlier, too.”
“…Who? You mean Burakh? How did you run into him, were you already snooping in his old man’s house?”
“No, I was in Stakh Rubin’s house.”
“Why were you- never mind, what did he say? Does his reputation precede him?" Andrey dropped back down onto the couch, elbows resting on his crossed legs, ready for some information he didn’t yet have. “Is he truly a murderous beast of a man?”
“Well, he’s…” Daniil sat back down, shifting distractedly. “He’s definitely large in stature. The type that looms over you. Doesn’t seem to be the killer, though he did admit to killing three men nearly unprompted. Apparently, he got jumped at the train station after arriving, he wasn’t even armed.”
Andrey’s eyes lit up and his fists began their pattern of clenching and unclenching. “Everyone looms over you. He killed, though, huh? Just like that? That must be the reason the town seems so content with it suddenly. Oh, this is so interesting. Who would have thought that one mans arrival would have the entire town hunting him for sport!”
“Careful, Andrey.” Daniil cast a critically knowing eye over the man. “I’m not sure that internal want you’re undoubtedly feeling will go the way you want it to.”
“You don’t think he would be willing to fight me? I’m an expert at riling people up into angry vindictive animals, just look at how you’ve turned out!”
“Yeah, sure,” came the scoffing response, “that’s what it was. Bloody knuckled brawls are just your idea of foreplay.”
“I’m wounded, Daniil, truly. The town has no doctor anymore and yet you hurt me. Now you definitely have to leave, go find another man to treat like shit.”
Daniil snorted a laugh, and a small, lonely part of Andrey healed ever so slightly. He led the man up and out of the bar where they parted ways, throwing various lighthearted insults at each other. When he was out of sight, Andrey turned and looked up towards the top of the building where he knew his cold, empty apartment lay waiting. He thought, only for a moment, about finding someone to bring in there, to warm it if only for just a few hours. There came a distant scream, and he turned away, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. The streets were much more fun than another meaningless night like those. He picked a direction and began to walk, more eager for the familiarity of blood and pain than pretend softness and faux tender thoughts.