WINTER, AS always, was abhorrent.

The Oak King stood in the blanket of snow that covered the clearing in the woods, the flat side of his sword tapping impatiently against the heel of his boot. The snow was over a foot thick, but the warmth of his body had melted a small patch away, leaving his boot soles to touch the soggy ground.

The heat the Oak King gave off was the heat of spring, the warmth of summer, and the muggy air of a May night. It was still early, though. His power wouldn’t fully mature until six months from now. Winter was at the apex of its power, and thus, his brother was experiencing his full strength tonight.

Unfortunately, none of that helped the Holly King’s habit of being tardy.

The tapping of the Oak King’s blade against his boot filled the air, echoing quietly through the branches of the nearby trees. Eons could pass, and his brother would still be late for their annual battle, the time when they crossed swords.

Theirs was an ancient ritual, born before time came to be measured by mortal standards. The Oak King reigned until the summer solstice, when the day was longest. Then he and the Holly King met where the wood was thick to match steel for steel and knuckle for knuckle. It was the oldest dance known to man, and neither of them were concerned. Overall, when the Oak King put his mind to their situation, this was really a formality. Nature would take its course as always.

He was here to ritually slay his brother.