To Save The Conscripted:
With the mist came the darkness, and with the darkness came Erabex. She was the very definition of the night, a being as mysterious as she was deadly, full of stars and wonders that one couldn’t even begin to grasp, but at the same time full of the horrible unknowns of an empty void that stretched on into infinity.
She appeared through the mist like a spectre, beautiful and forlorn, a siren that called out to those naive enough to step close, ready to pull them down into the depths of her inky blackness and drown them in her cold embrace.
Her naked feet touched down on mossy ground that cushioned her, and she began to stalk around the pile of rubble that had once been the Jade Construct, looking at it with gold eyes that sparkled with a malicious kind of glee.
She stretched out a toe to dip it in the dark red stain that had once been a man, but was now nothing more than a patch of crushed flesh and armour. She shuddered a little as she retracted the toe, but not in horror.
Instead a look of pure ecstasy was written all over her face, a sadistic lust for the death that had been dealt here. She bit her lip, letting out a little moan of pleasure as she ran her hands up and down the darkness that covered her like a dress of velvet.
“Stop that,” Gulmont growled from a nearby tree stump, running a sharpening stone up the length of his blade, the sound of stone slashing against steel echoing through the small camp that he, Marker and the remaining conscripts had made.
After the battle with the Jade Construct, and given the losses they’d suffered, they’d decided to set up camp for the night. With the mist they weren’t likely to make much more progress today anyway, and they would rather not run blindly into another Jade Construct like they had just done, so they hunkered down, Gulmont offering to take watch while the others slept.
“What’s wrong, Monty dearest,” Erabex crooned, “Am I frustrating you?” She asked, drifting towards him with a grace that no mortal could embody. She sunk down onto the tree stump beside him, curling up like a cat as she looked up at him from under hooded, come hither eyes.
“Yes, you are,” Gulmont grumbled as he took out his suppressed aggravation on his sword, running the sharpening stone down it and watching as sparks flew off it, only to flutter harmlessly to the ground at his feet.
Erabex reached out, her hand gently caressing the nape of his neck as she leaned in to whisper seductively in his ear. “Then why not relieve yourself of some of those frustrations?” She purred, tempting and teasing him. “You know I’m always here to help with that.”
Gulmont shrugged her off and turned away from her, ignoring her advances with a sigh of irritation. “No,” he said, rejecting her for what felt like the hundredth time, keeping his attention on his sword and sharpening stone.
Erabex’s face darkened. Gone was the tantalising seductress, instead replaced with a jilted and spiteful vixen that resented not getting her way. She let out a shrill shriek that sounded like a banshee and lashed out, slapping Gulmont across the face, her fingernails, clawed talons, digging into his flesh and leaving four scrapes along his skin.
Gulmont let out a hiss, dropping his sword and stone to lift a hand to cup his cheek, clenching his teeth in pain. “How exactly is that supposed to sway me towards you?” he asked as he rubbed his face.
“It wasn’t supposed to sway you,” Erabex spat back. “It was to punish you.” She began to pout, stalking towards the three graves that had been dug not far away, looking them over with a hint of morbid curiosity.
“You’re not brooding like you usually do when someone dies,” she pointed out, feigning nonchalance. “When this sort of thing happens you usually beat yourself up over how you didn’t save these miserable excuses for mortality.”
Gulmont waved a hand, using some of the life force in the air around him to heal his cheek before turning to Erabex, his flesh knitting itself together, leaving him unblemished, like he hadn’t just been slapped across the face.
He watched her examining the graves for a moment, his attention becoming lost in this rare moment of quiet when she was not trying to goad him into something more than he was willing to give and simply asking after him.
To the rest of the world he would deny he cared, but to himself he could be honest enough. He did care for her, in an odd, warped kind of way, but he’d never allow himself to show it. He’d remain loyal to the words he’d spoken so long ago, and bury whatever it was he felt for her.
But she was beautiful, strikingly so, her long raven locks fluttering slightly in a breeze that was not there, the darkness that encompassed her rolling around like water over rocks, or like the subtle smoke from a candle.
“We conscripts are not meant to survive,” Gulmont said after a while. “We’re expected to die, and often do, in one way or another. It’s not a surprise when we’re killed in battle, it’s almost expected. Being conscripted as they were is only a way to save coin on an execution by sending them to join the war effort. You give your life to the Seraph to pay for the crimes you committed, that’s all.”
Picking up his sword and sharpening stone once more, he went back to maintaining his blade. “I guess I’ve just accepted that those conscripted are going to die, if not now, some when later.”
Erabex turned to watch him as he spoke, her brow furrowing the more he explained. She looked down at the ground when he fell silent, trying to think of something to say, but finding nothing, the hole in her chest that she once called a heart crying out to the broken man in front of her that had been so beaten down by the world he didn’t even realise he had.
So instead of saying anything, she stepped up beside him once more, sliding down to sit next to him, and carefully leaned her head against his shoulder, saying nothing, just sitting with him in silence, listening to the sound of the sharpening stone against the blade.
They remained like that until the dawn came, taking comfort in one another’s company until the sun stole her away again, and Erabex took flight.
It was the song that brought Archibald back to consciousness, an old song that he thought he’d never hear again. It had been written in his youth by a woman he loved above all others, a gift for his twenty first birthday.
Maeva would have not been his first choice of wives, but the agreement had already been made long before his birth, and he was a Black, and those of House Black never went back on an agreement.
So he had gone through with the arraigned marriage, turning up at the temple of the six with the rest of his family at the age of sixteen, having never met the woman that he was about to pledge his life and love to, till death do they part.
It had to be said that Maeva was not the most attractive woman he had ever seen, even in the stunning white wedding gown she’d warn that day. That was not to say she was ugly, not by any means. In fact, Archibald could imagine that she would have had a throng of young men lining up to court her at any given moment, she was simply not the sort of woman he found himself attracted to.
She was blond, for a start, a trait that had never held much interest for him. He much preferred the raven hair that house Black was known for. Her skin was tan however, which spoke of the purity of her Krytan blood, so he supposed that was something he should focus on rather than the colour of her hair.
She had more curves than he would like as well, some might describe her a voluptuous, and he supposed that her large breasts and her full hips would make for good breeding so that he could carry on the family legacy if nothing else.
She was ten years older than him however, a fact that Archibald would have objected to if he had a say in the matter. But he didn’t, so once he was at the alter and the priest had said the words, he repeated them and Maeva became Maeva Black.
Their first few days as husband and Wife were rocky at best. Archibald mostly left Maeva alone, preferring to concentrate on his studies in law and the Krytan government, but soon his parents began to question his intentions to carry create an heir and he had to relinquish.
He begrudgingly started to spend time with Maeva, and to his surprise found her not only to be an intelligent woman, but funny as well. He started to enjoy their talks, and would often invite her to walk with him through the gardens of the estate.
He soon had decided that if nothing else, his wife would make for a good friend. It wasn’t until they began to actually try for an heir did Archibald become besotted.
Maeva had supposed to be a virgin when she and Archibald married, but on the day they first consummated their marriage it became clear that she was anything but. Archibald however couldn’t complain, the woman derived him wild, and his lust turned to adoration, and near complete loyalty.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Maeva continued to miscarry, Archibald might have stayed loyal to her.
He had loved her though, more than he had loved any of his other infidelities. And the song he heard now brought him back to the world of the living.
His eyelids fluttered open, and for a moment he thought he saw Maeva sitting at his bedside, her hand firmly in his own. She was so beautiful. He almost called her name, but caught himself as his eyes focused and he found that it was not Maeva, but Ida sitting beside him.
He cursed his own foolishness, ignoring the relief that flooded Ida’s face as she saw him awaken. “How long?” He asked as he tried to get into a sitting position.
Ida gently pushed him back onto the bed however, shaking her head. “You passed out yesterday afternoon, my Lord. It’s now morning. I’ll ask that you continue to rest, my Lord. You need time to recuperate.”
Archibald didn’t argue, even if he would like to. He hated to be so infirm, and being ordered around by the girl he had raised did little to improve his mood, he knew she spoke sense however, so he did as she said, lying his head back on the pillow.
“Where did you hear that song from?” He said after a while. Maeva had been quite the accomplished musician in life, and he didn’t know of anyone who could play it with as perfectly as she, but Ida had pulled it off nearly as well, even though he was quite certain Maeva had only ever played the song for him.
“Your good lady wife,” Ida explained. “She was trying to teach it to the Lady Agara when she fell ill, but Lady Agara never was drawn towards the finer arts. I picked it up while the lady was trying to teach her and grew a liking to it.”
“I see,” Archibald huffed, suppressing the flair of emotion that threatened to well up inside of him, instead burring it deep within him.
He was about to compliment Ida of her rendition of the song, but was interrupted as the door flew open and a White Mantle Cleric burst into the room. “My Lord Justiciar,” he announced, “I’m glad to see you’re looking well, but I have something troubling to report.”
Archibald let out a sigh, waving his hand for the man to continue.
“One of our Jade Constructs that was patrolling the area not for from here is not responding, we fear that it’s been destroyed, which means the heretics are not far from here.”
Archibald scowled beneath his mask, pushing himself to his feet and waving a hand to Ida before she could protest. “Get ready the defences and call that wretched pirate back in case I need a quick escape. We are to be put on high alert, is that understood? An attack may be imminent.”