The stench of burning bodies filled my nostrils. A mountain of corpses and devastated limbs looked at me, watching me with cruel anticipation for when I would join it. I touched my arm, and my hand came away red with blood. Are they still after us?
From above me, hell rained. The sky was streaked with red and smoke. The resistance had broken hours ago. The defense had been torn apart by the enemy’s bombardments. The attack had been swift. Ruthless. Indiscriminate. More civilians died than soldiers, and when the troops had finally landed, they didn’t care if they bombed them too.
Kaldratos. I have to find Kaldratos. That was what father said. That was what he told me to do. Where is he? I’d been separated from my brother at the Headquarters. Father sent us t different locations, just in case a precision strike took any one of our positions out. The House of Vixiua would live on, even if only one of us lived.
I had been taken away to some remote outpost in the mountains, surrounded by a forest. My betrothed, Lady Lelliana Octarna, had accompanied me, as was befitting. Her face none of the fear that dwelled within me, nothing that hinted at even the slightest bit of premonition or dread.
The outpost had been invaded by a battalion of soldiers, but what House they served I honestly had no idea. As far as I knew, there was no Armada or Fleet within the Imperium that could have possibly orchestrated something like this.
But, there was no other option.
“Come on!” Lelliana grabbed me forcefully and pulled me along, past the pile of bodies and the burning buildings. This area hadn’t been bombarded from orbit. No. This work was the doing of those animals that descended on my home. The ones that come here just to kill.
“Where are we going?” I asked her, my voice weak. A quiver of dread shot through me as I thought of us encountering those mad dogs that had done this.
Lelliana didn’t answer me directly, instead she pulled me along, and then randomly ducked down whenever she believed she had heard or sensed something. Her pulseblade was gripped tightly in her hand. What good will it do us against trained soldiers? Look at what they’ve done!
I tried to tell her this, but she shot me an angry look.
“This is our home!” she snarls at me, “I will not let it fall. Not without trying to fight. My mother and father won’t be running from the enemy, and neither would yours. It is our duty, as the children of our parents, to fight too! As Nobles should.” Her words were strong. But I gulped down my retort. We saw your parents get killed three hours ago. My father was captured when they died, Lelliana. But maybe her mind had just blocked it out. Whatever the case, I needed her now.
“It’s safe, let’s go.” She rushes from the hiding spot, still holding on to my hand as she nimbly makes her way across the burning town. It’s as if she doesn’t care that so many people are dead. Or that this battle is already lost.
We cut through the burning ruins of the town and into the forest again. My feet squish in the mud, and a sharp log cuts against my leg. I don’t complain. We run, faster and faster. We’ve been running for hours, ever since the outpost fell and our guards sent us into the woods. No protection. No escort. Not even a single Knight! It was insanity. Did nobody but me realise that we were royally fucked?
Nobody ever listens to the one who’s always right.
I hear a rustle, and Lelliana stops. She shoves me against a tree, her pulseblade in her hand, she thumbs over the activator. All she has to do is think, and blade of death will appear from the ornate and beautiful hilt.
She dives, taking me tumbling down with her as a flurry of plasma bolts shoot into the tree beside us. She rolls, and comes up, pulseblade in her fingers. We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die! I put my head in my hands, I feel my finger nails clawing at my skin.
“Wait, hold up. It’s just a little girl!” One man calls out.
“Little girl? Do you see the blood’ weapon in his hands? She’s a Noble! Kill her!”
“But, she’s a child.”
“Do I give a fuck? You know the orders. We kill the-“ He never gets a chance to finish his sentence. I hear a sickening hissing and burning sound as a pulseblade cuts through flesh. A man curses. He screams. Silence.
A few moments later, I feel warm arms around me, someone hugging me. “I’m not going to let you die.” A small voice whispers to me. “No matter what. I won’t let that happen.”
We stay like that for what seems like an hour. I notice a tear rolling down her cheek, and only then do I realise the gravity of what just happened. She killed two people, to save me.
When we get up, and she drags me along again. I no longer complain. I don’t feel the pain. I push past it. If she can show such strength, such determination to keep me alive. Then I will be stronger for it. I will not be a burden!
Everything flashes, and I’m standing below another outpost. Lelliana is deliberating on whether to risk asking them for help or not. I’ve been following her this whole time. This time, I’ll decide what we have to do. I’ll save us.
I pull her along, gently at first, but then I start to run. Happy to be back to people I know, to have people who will protect me, and who won’t let me die. With them around, Lelliana won’t have to kill for me. And I can use them to go and find Kaldratos!
As I get closer to the base, it becomes larger and larger. The pure white walls and gun turrets speak of safety. That death will befall any foe that tries to attack it, to attack me and Lelliana. I feel a warmth in my heart, happy that we will be safe.
I am panting by the time I reach the gate, and three guards step forward, rifles raised. “Who are you?” One asks.
I blink in surprise. I hadn’t met every single soldier in my lifetime. But every soldier on Saldeth should know who I am, if not on looks, then by the pendant attached to my neck.
“He’s a lordy. Probably the son that’s still alive. They’ve been searching for him for a while now.” The man beside him notes.
I’ve lead us into a trap. The guilt and fear hangs on me like soaked clothes. But Lelliana quickly stands between me and the troops, pulseblade activated. It hums lightly. She can kill two men who aren’t really aware of her ability to kill. But these three are prepared. In an instant their out of reach, their weapons raised and aimed at her and myself. From above us, one of the infantry turrets swivels and locks with Lelliana’s body. A single move out of line, and we’ll be blown in half by the repeater.
“Listen here. You’re coming with us, or we can kill you. Those are your options. And I’d really prefer not killing anyone else today.” The man seems genuinely unnerved by the death he’s seen, but he still has his rifle trained on Lelliana, ready to pull the trigger at the slightest provocation. “Boy, what’s your name?” He asks me.
“Eleusis Vixiua,” I answer. My voice is as strong as I can make it. I want it to sound authorative, commanding, like I know my father would. But I am no Magnus Vixiua, I am only a scared little boy.
One of the men off to the side clicks his fingers. “So it is him.” He looks to Lelliana and then me. “We’re not going to hurt you two. Give your weapons to us. You won’t be getting them back, but at least we’ll know we can trust you not to try kills us all.” He looks at Lelliana, and then the turret repeater. “Try, darlin’. Try”
I tap Lelliana’s shoulder, and nod to her. I set my mouth firm, looking confident, but concerned. I throw my pulseblade to one of the men, and she follows suit a few seconds later.
“Very good,” one of them says.
A few minutes later, we’re ordered through the gate. It shrieks as it opens for us, as if it knows that it is in enemy hands and that this is the worst fate it could ever have envisioned.
The outpost is bustling with life. To one side stand soldiers imprisoned or chained. Above them, hang corpses. A few of the imprisoned soldiers call out when they see me. Looks of despair or sorrow on their faces. One soldier angrily shouts that a child my age shouldn’t be seeing this. But a moment later he receives a kick to the gut and doubles over. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s all I can manage. For them. For Lelliana. For myself.
A man dressed in white is surrounded by soldiers. He gives orders, shouting to other people to do their damn jobs while he does his. When he catches eye of the soldiers bringing me, his delight is almost contagious. There is a dance in his eye that promises something that fills me with fear.
“Vixiua,” he calls to someone behind him. “One of your sons showed up. I told you someone would be stupid enough to take the bait!” He turns back to me, “Your father lost this planet some hours ago, lad. I’m surprised you had the balls to come anywhere near here. Then again, you may just be stupid.”
“That’s enough, Ignatios.” Someone retorts. A man in pulsebinds walks into the centre of the group. He smells horrible. Small liquid stains and brown patches coat his once flawless attire.
Ignatios? I don’t recognise that name! Who the hell is Ignatios? What House does he come from? What the hell is going on? And why does father smell so terrible? Lelliana clutches closer to me, unwilling to let me out of her sight.
The man anmed Ignatios notices my gaze. “We took our chance to relieve ourselves onto your kindly father here. Serves him right for all the shit he’s put us through.” He turns back to my father. “You nearly beat us above Ilusia. You know, if you’d actually stayed and finished the job. I’d be dead, and this wouldn’t be happening.”
“Ilusia,” I repeat the word aloud. “You’re a rebel? Your from the rebellion?” I ask. The man looks at me with his cold, dead, brown eyes. Something sinister lurks beneath his gaze.
“I’m from the Universal Collective of Allied Systems and Planets, boy. We aren’t some small-time rebellion. We are a revolution! We will bring about a new era. A great change. Society will be better once we rule all.”
“I think that’s what they all say,” Lelliana mutters beside me. She looks at the man, unimpressed by who he is and who he serves.
He notices, “You might be a little kinder to us soon. After all, we control what happens to you. What we do to you.” He smiles, “Of course, a young, proper, Noble Lady such as yourself will be treated will all the due respects, of course.” His words send a shiver down my spine. After what they did to father, I loathe to think about what would happen to Lelliana.
“You’ll be alright,” I whisper. But my voice quavers as I speak the words. I see her shiver, just lightly. But I noticed.
“Now,” Ignatios claps his hands. “Now that the family reunion is over and one. Let’s get down to business.” He turns back to my father, but his eyes are locked on me.
“Do you know what happened to Kaldratos?” he asks. I shake my head. Ignatios smiles again, however.
“Do you mean the boy that you sent to the Caventine tunnels? I had the place bombed and then demolished. Nobody survived. Your son is dead.” My father says nothing, but he closes his eyes. It is his sign of respect to the dead, and him accepting his own failure to protect his family.
“I’m sure he’s alive, father.” I say it with as much belief as I can. “Big brother would never die to these people.” My father does not smile, as I had hoped he would. Instead, he imparts wisdom on to me.
“Everyone dies, Eleusis. It is never glorious, nor is it Noble. Or honourable. Men and women and children die, each and every day. Some in war, some to starvation, some to disease. Even negligence. If your brother is gone from this life, then it is your duty to respect his passing. Remember him, but do not mourn him. Fight for him. Live for him.” My father’s voice is strong, resilient. As if he hasn’t been captured by enemies, he still has charge of his own destiny. His own fate.
Ignatios’ smile is wicked, “Don’t worry, you’ll be dead soon enough, old man.” He clicks his fingers, and the butt of a rifle smacks my father’s back. He stumbles forward, but does not fall to his knees. I step forward, but hands grab me and shove me backwards. In my right hand, a warm hand grips mine. The rifle comes again, and this time my father falls, kneeling before Ignatios. The rifle’s point aimed at his head.
“I want you to watch this,” he looks at me. “You Nobles. You are born thinking you’re greater than us. Born thinking you should be above us, rule us. But, look at you. Down here in the mud and shit. You’re nothing.”
“I will always be greater than you, Ignatios. For I am a paragon among humanity. I have guided men and women to be greater than they could have ever dreamed. I will always be better than you.” My father barks a laugh, and Ignatios cracks him across the jaw, and irritated look on his face.
“Shut the hell up you dog.” He outstretches his hand and one of the guards hand him a pistol. My senses heighten. I smell the filth on my father, I feel the anger radiating from the men around me, the undeserved hatred. The lust to kill us, simply because of how I was born.
“You shouldn’t watch this,” Lelliana whispers to me, her voice is soft and sad.
I shake my head.
“Do not look away,” my father is the one who speaks. “Remember this. Remember it all.” His voice booms amidst the circle of enemies. Even now, he is commanding.
My foe smiles, a mischievous, hateful smile. His eyes hold ten thousand years’ worth of hatred. His crow-feet brows furrowed in glee and malice. I hear a hissing sound as he pulls the trigger, and a bolt fires through my father’s forearm. “Opps, I misfired. Sorry about that.” He cackles, mad with his own pleasure.
Blood runs down my father’s arm, but it’s as if he doesn’t even notice the pain.
“Fine, fine, I’ll get on with it.” He shrugs, and aims at my father’s head. “You’re watching, boy?” He gives me a smile.
He pulls the trigger.
My father’s head jerks, blood shoots behind him. When he falls forward, it’s like the crashing of a starship in my ears. The snapping of trees, the howl of a thunderous wind. All I feel is her hand gripping mine. That single solace of comfort in all this horror.
“Father,” I whisper. I knew it was going to happen, I saw the look in Ignatios’ eyes. But, to see him laying still on the ground, it is a frightening thing. To see my father dead, to know that the man who had legends and stories written about his deeds was gone. Magnus Vixiua, Champion of His Majesty Kauldian, was dead.
“He’s dead. Gone. Boom. Nothing going on in here anymore.” He bends down and taps my father’s skull, giving me a bright smile. With a sigh he rises himself back up, flicks me a look, and then stomps on my father’s head.
There is a horrid squelch as bone and blood mix. Ignatios’ heavy military boot grinds my father’s head into the ground. My free hand goes to my mouth as I tried to hold back the vomit. But it’s no use, I lurch forward, and sickness spews from my lips. The soldier closest to me backs away, apparently disgusted. I cough, splutter. I feel my knees buckle.
“Stand,” she whispers to me. “Don’t fall. Don’t let them see it, don’t give them that satisfaction.” Her voice is hard and cold, resolute.
I stand, straightening my legs after vomiting on the ground. Ignatios walks towards me, and then wipes sickness from my mouth like a concerned parent.
“I’d have you kiss my boot, because I know how much you loved your dear father. But, that seems just unnecessary. But, don’t worry. You’ll get to spend the whole trip with him!” He cackles again, and when he clicks his fingers, it’s revealed why. A small, rectangular box is brought forward. Like a tiny cupboard. A coffin.
His guards throw me and Lelliana into the coffin. I can barely crane my neck or move at all. Her hand is still locked in mine.
A moment later, I hear Ignatios’ sick cackle once more. And then a third body is thrown in. Blood runs down my neck as my father’s body hits me. I choke back the vomit, Lelliana squeezes my hand, her head forced to rest against my back.
Darkness encloses around us, and then stench of filth and blood overpowers me. I nearly black out, but I hear a soft voice against me.
“I’m here. It’ll be alright,” She tells me. How are you brave in a situation like this. “I’m here,” she repeats. I feel a warmth around me, like a glow. “Come back, please.” What? The voice no longer comes from behind me, but all around me. “We need you. I need you. Please, Eleusis. Please come back.”
White lights greet me. The room smells of sanitisation, cleanliness. I sigh against the bed, it is soft against me, my body has sunken against it.
I try to rise, but a pain shoots in my gut. I cry out, and my hand goes straight to my abdomen. I feel the stick of flesh-gel.
Where am I? I look around me. The room is completely white, panels of light décor the walls, and a man sits on a seat at the far corner of the room. Head bowed. It is a face I recognise very well, the face of a man I fought beside for a year. The man who saved me when no one else would.
Myron, what are you doing here? I’m supposed to be dead? Galvian shot me. And that dream? I haven’t had that dream for many years. But, Lelliana’s voice. Why was it calling me back here?
“So, you’re finally awake, Hannibal.” My friend raises his head, “Or are you Eleusis? Or are you both?” He sighs, and stands, striding towards me. “Don’t answer those questions. Not yet, at least. You’re still recovering.”
I sink back into my bed, it parts for me as my head goes against it. Ah, I’m in medic-gel. Of course.
“Myron…” I try to speak, but my voice comes out as a croak. He hushes me with a wave of his hand.
“When you’re awake, you have a shitton of questions to answer, got it? And then you’ve got to save us. Until then, sleep.”
“Wait!” I ask, desperate. “Lelliana, is she… Is she here?”
He gives me a quizzical look, but he doesn’t press the button to knock me out. “She got here a day after I told her what happened. She was the first person that I informed. She comes by here each morning and night, otherwise she’s out, making preparations so that Galvian can’t come in and kill you.” He smiles lightly, “she’s frightening when she’s mad, Eleusis. You should have seen her when she saw what had happened to you.”
He shakes his head, a proper smile forming on his lips. “I’ll tell her you woke up, don’t worry.” He offers me a smile, but it dies before it reaches his eyes. I close my eyes, my mind relaxed. That was why I heard her voice. But one more question bugged me now.
“Why did you save me?” I ask, truly wanting to know the answer.
He stiffens then, and a forlorn look dawns over his face. “This is the last question. After they shot you,” He glances away, “After we shot you. We wanted to take off your mask. When he did, he didn’t immediately recognise you, neither did Tarvitz or the rest. But I did. I got you out, I gathered up the members of your Unit, and I set up a perimieter. Dr. Andrews has been looking after you for the last few days, and the ship has effectively been divided in half, some who support you, and some who support Galvian. I’ll explain the rest next time you wake up.” He taps the button as I close my eyes.
“Rest well, my friend.”