- November 19, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 52)
“It is not a god that ails the mind, the mind is well enough to poison itself.”
Chief Keona of the Icee Tribe, 448 A.C.A.
You can only betray your friends. You cannot lose trust in your enemies. The villains in your life may be crass, vile, cruel, and willing to do demented things to make your life terrible, but you should expect nothing less from them.
The villains do exactly what you expect them to do, or else they’re not a villain. No villain can leave you unable to trust.
But your friends? Your friends can hurt you in such a way that you do not trust even yourself.
Lucilla Nero trusted one person without question, and it was not herself. When the trust she had in that one person was called into question, she began a course of action that might have betrayed him long before he had the chance to betray her.
It had to be during the rain. When the rain was beating down on the Icy Pearl Isles, Lucy shed her clothes to take the form of a beast that blended in with the rock side. In her form of tentacles and rubbery skin, the rocks on the ground did not scratch or stab her. She was fluid upon it, crawling, and at times shimmering over them.
Hunters, assassins, and soldiers alike moved past her without realizing it as she made her way to Quintus’s tent.
When she had almost made it to her destination, it was nearly a child who caught her. A child of the Hotun noticed that the part of the ground had more rocks and dirt than it used to.
But her mother called her along, and she would not think to out Lucy to those who did not see her.
It’s always the kids who catch you, she thought to herself, and then she slithered on. At that moment, one would have been hard-pressed to believe she was a cephalopod rather than a reptile.
Like the other leaders of the Black Legion, Quintus made his home by a cliffside. Each of them without saying, bowed their heads close to the sea, the one thing could kill all of them with ease and vigor.
All of them save for Lucy. It would have had to put in some effort to kill the pirate.
Lucy slithered into the tent, careful to shift back to her human form as she entered to avoid dragging slime into his tent. Water was one thing with the torrential downpour outside, but slime? It would obviously be her.
Lucy looked over his mess of blankets, then the trinkets in the corner that he had spent time carving. The whole of his life was here, and she came to ransack it.
Quint would never do this to me, she knew.
Then she proceeded to rummage through his tent anyway.
Everything was getting tossed. The blankets were being unrolled, the bed mat laid out, and the trinkets toppled and turned. It didn’t take long for her to unveil what she had hoped to never find.
Underneath his pillow lay something in the shape of a guillotine, wrapped in bandages…
She still held his blanket to her chest. She held it closer and tighter as she looked at the cursed object on the ground.
Why did you have to be here? Why couldn’t you be my imagination? She pulled his blanket to her skin, feeling the same soft fabric that surely adorned Quintus each night. The privilege this cloth has had that I don’t deserve.
Lucy held her hand to her face as she whispered to herself, “What have I done coming here?”
The sound of footsteps against gravel sent her scurrying like a mouse. She turned into her octopus form, but inside the tent, a large, oily mass would be easier to spot than if it were outside.
But Lucy had to try.
To no one’s surprise, Quintus entered his tent dripping wet from the rain. His face was so soaked that he needed to wipe water from his face to see. It was as if he just exited a pool.
Before he even took a gander at his tent, he attempted to untie his wrist wrappings — his only attire above the waist — and his trousers at the same time.
Lucy bit her lip at the sight.
As he attempted to do so, the show was interrupted, and he saw the thing that was shaped like a guillotine uncovered by his pillow.
“Hmm,” he growled to himself, knowing enough by the mere sight of it.
He walked over and tore the rest of the blankets off of it.
Lucy couldn’t take her eyes off of him as he lifted it by a handle she hadn’t seen earlier. Now that it was in his hand, it appeared so much bigger. It was nearly the length of his shoulders in width, and the length was nearly that of his arms.
It was obvious what it was, but that did not mean Lucy looked away as he unwrapped the object to inspect it.
As Quintus did so, the lightning would fire off more and more, turning him into a shadow before Lucy’s eyes. It was like it would fly through the air over the Isles to flash the light they could not have.
The shadows would consume him and the massive object he held in one hand. When he unwrapped it, the lightning shined on him and revealed the totality of his blade. It was a massive cleaver that shined so well that Lucy saw Quintus’s reflection in it.
And then he flicked it with a snap of his wrist towards the ground.
The blade spun and revealed that it had collapsed into its smaller state. Its true size was greater than that of the average woman, and he held it in one hand.
If it were a normal sword, it would not be so terrifying, but it was a cleaver. Cleavers were not weapons, they were the tools of butchers.
Suddenly, Lucy felt like the perfect animal for the tool to be tested on, trying to fight the urge to shake or make any noise of any kind.
She had to sit perfectly still and wait as Quintus wrapped the blade back up, changed out of his clothes, and then laid himself to rest. She had to both fight the urge to tremble in fear, and the urge to throw herself at his knees begging for forgiveness.
He was hiding the damning weapon, and yet… she still felt the need to beg his forgiveness. She still feared the look of betrayal he would feel.
When she finally believed he was asleep, she stood up in the tent and looked over his sleeping form with a mess of feelings and emotions. Fear, guilt, and something else rather unsavory considering their joined nudity all swirled within her.
Rather than make her leave, she knelt down beside him to rest her hand so gently upon his arm, and leaned her head so close to his. For a moment, she could feel his warmth radiating off his skin, the warmth she had come to covet when he so platonically offered it.
She left him with a gentle, but long-lasting kiss on his buzzed head of hair.
There were a million things to say, and she said not one.
Lucy left him where he lay and shifted to her beast form as she moved through the flap. It served as a medium of change going in, and a medium of backtracking going out.
“What are you doing here?”
When Andy opened the door to Amidala’s room, she did not expect Astrid to be there daydrinking.
From the outside looking in, the shadows were not kind to Astrid’s face. She looked like she was covered in sweat, her hair sticking to her head, and as if half her was charred with all the soot covering it.
But from the way she slumped, she just looked so tired.
“I fought the wicked bitch,” Astrid said.
“What?!” her companions said, more or less as they shuffled in, Malum making sure to keep Henry in front of him.
Andy got to her first with Jack right behind her. Up close, she could tell that Astrid wasn’t bleeding or terribly wounded. The shadows were not friendly to anyone with reason to worry, but the light of the fireplace was.
“Did… did you get her?” Jack asked her.
“Do you see a corpse around here?” Andy asked him before Astrid could answer.
“She’s a witch, she could have turned into ash for all we know!”
Malum added, “Astrid also does use a sun axe, there’s a lot of reasons to think she’d turn to ashes.”
“No… she got away, with her stupid magic,” Astrid told them before chucking the bottle of wine she was holding.
“What the fuck?!” Andy yelled, aghast at the wasted wine.
“Oh thank god,” they heard the Bard mutter under his breath.
Malum pushed him forward and he found himself facing daggers.
Henry shrugged and reminded them, “I know she’s a wicked witch who’s been manipulating you, but let’s be honest, if your friend had killed her, not even the rich boy’s sister could save you. Raydorn would lose the war while trying to kill you because it would be so busy trying to kill you.”
Astrid’s mouth twisted in disgust. “Ew, he says things that make sense, why did you bring him?”
“Because I was once a charming sonuvabitch.”
Astrid turned to Andy with an arch in her brow, to which Andy responded with a shake of her head.
“My… my apologies,” Henry said as he looked away, “the urge to charm is strong in me, even when I should be holding my fine mouth shut.”
“Oh, je did something real bad, didn’t he?” Astrid asked.
Andy stood up to her feet and offered her hand to the downtrodden Astrid. “I would kill him, but he’s too useful for that. Plus, the guilt is going to eat him alive.”
“Too true,” he agreed.
“Shut up,” Jack told him as he was the first to leave the room.
Malum watched him as he went, before suggesting, “We should probably go. If Amidala isn’t here, there’s no reason to be sitting ducks.”
The women nod in agreement. Malum leaves the Bard of the Song to Andy this time, giving the Bard the chance to warn Andy, “I know I’m far from the most trustworthy source, but surely, you know you have to leave the castle now, don’t you?”
They began walking again towards the castle’s atrium, where people should be waking up but barely able to move. At the pace they were going, they were giving the guards enough time to rally.
If we dump the Bard of the Song and hurry, we could escape before they try to hang us, but if we leave, he’ll get the chance to blame it on us.
“How do we keep you from blaming all of this on us?” Andy asked him.
“That’s literally impossible,” he told her flat out. “Especially if you kill me, you’re getting blamed for everything that messed with today’s party.”
“Hold up a minute,” Jack said, slowing the group’s progress to a halt. “Why would we get blamed? Your powers clearly did it!”
Henry’s head tilted, and even shook a little as he gave Jack the most condescending look of pity. “You really think they’d believe an Honorguard made this mess for no good reason?”
Malum told Jack, “He’s gonna blame it on us.”
Astrid took her axe in both hands as the blade began to burn. “If we’re going to get the blame anyway, why don’t we just kill him now?”
Henry quickly made the noise and a gesture of a zipper closing his lips. “My lips snitch on no one, including myself.”
Andy shook her head. “I don’t know, this doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to not kill you if we’re going to get the blame for your shit.”
Henry looked her dead in the eye and said, “Because you’re not a piece of shit?”
Malum appeared next to him without making a sound. He whispered into the Honorguard’s ear, “Sure about that?” making the Bard jump.
Henry held his hand over his chest as he tried to calm himself down. He made calming gestures with his hands as he found himself between Malum’s looming dark presence and Andy’s cold yet scolding glare.
Henry pointed at Malum and said, “Now you, sir, you’re a piece of shit,” then turned to Andy, “but she’s just an asshole, important distinction.”
“Okay,” Jack said in a rather mocking tone, “then what am I?”
Henry shrugged. “I don’t know, pathetic?”
He got him there, Andy chuckled to herself.
Astrid raised her fiery axe when Henry looked at her.
“You’re a wonderful friend?” Henry suggested.
Astrid lowered her axe.
Henry turned toward and talked with his hands, “Seriously, get out of here,” even making walking legs with his fingers, and other mild gestures as he tried to tell Andy to leave. “If I learn anything more about Amidala, I’ll send you letters through your sister.”
Andy and Malum traded looks.
“I don’t talk to my sister,” Andy said.
“I don’t even have a sister… I think,” Malum added.
They had Henry rolling his eyes at their ability to waste time. It’s almost as if they didn’t want to live. “Gee, I wonder if maybe I wasn’t talking to either of you then.”
Henry’s eyes then rested on Jack, who then grew red with anger as their eyes turned towards him.
“Fine, I’ll send a letter to Diana to keep a look out for word from you.” Henry was about to give him a thumbs up when Jack added, “You better be listening out for the Aurora Knight too. We can come back.”
Henry looked at Andy and then rolled his eyes.
Sure, Jack, you were the one who beat him.
“You know,” Henry mumbled as he put on his thinking face and started tapping his finger on his lips, “I heard rumors about the Aurora Knight and some Starshield boy… I would have thought you’d be cuter.”
Jack’s eyes slowly narrowed on the Bard. “Is this just Shit on Jack Day?”
Andy answered, “Every day is Shit on Jack Day, now let’s go.”
The storm still raged on over the Icy Pearl Isles, and each icy drop was like hail against Lucy’s skin. Earlier it wasn’t so heavy, enough that many had taken to playing in the rain. The rain was something to celebrate among the Hotun, being people of the desert. The Icee made sure they knew that the rain was most dangerous in their new home.
Now Lucy ran through their empty village as everyone was inside their tents, using their tarps to stay dry.
Lucy’s thoughts ran afoul of her soul. The guilt that wracked her mind fought with the fear that drove her.
She had a destination though. Not her tent, not after escaping from Quintus’s unseen.
She sought the one person who would be brave enough to tell her the truth, and knowledgeable enough to have some kind of idea of what she saw.
When Lucy came upon Chief Alabaster’s tent, the elder of the Hotun, she didn’t know how to get his attention.
You can’t knock on a tent, but if you yell, you’ll wake everyone up, and get their attention, Lucy warned herself. You don’t want them to know, they’ll tell Quintus. He’ll ask you what’s wrong, and it will hurt.
Some god of the sea or sky seemed to favor her and took the choice out of her hands with a flash of lightning. It shot far in the distance behind her, and from the inside it made her silhouette all too easy to spot.
So while she was busy fidgeting with her hands and her thoughts, someone opened the tent flap, spooking her.
Chief Basta looked out and up at Lucy, this young woman whom he’d seen skewer mermaids, outdrink men twice her size, and lift boulders over her head, was in complete disarray. She was soaked to the bone, shivering so fast that she appeared to be still, and without her pirate cap and hat, the wrong shadows lined her face.
The fear was emanating from her rather than being drawn in.
Without a second thought, he bade her to enter, “Come in, ma’am, come in.”
I haven’t been called ma’am in a long time, and never by someone so much… older.
Basta laid a gentle hand on her arm and gently pressed her inside. She wasn’t hesitant to enter, so much as slow moving. She had not realized just how cold she had become.
Despite lacking a warm fire, being inside the tent made all the difference. She could feel how she was shaking now. It was not dark either, however. Instead of using fire for light, they have a small nest of fireflies in a coral funnel. The fireflies that spread across the walls of the tent and the coral in the center lit up just fine.
“Lucil,” she was called by the other chief in the village, Chief Keona of the Icee, “wha- what are you… <doing> out in this rain?”
The old chief, much like many of the Hotun and Icee, had taken to learning Rayne as well. Despite their great effort, Lucy’s name, native to neither of the three tongues on the island, was not easy to pronounce.
Not the time for corrections.
She sat down, and tried to explain, “I-I… I’m not… I need…” She tried to speak, but she could only shiver and try to keep from audibly breathing.
“<Try to slow down,>” Basta said in Uzuri, and Lucy couldn’t do it until she watched Basta slowly sit down next to the equally elderly Keona… quite close, hands threatening to intertwine…
That’s… so cute. To find someone so late in life, and here I am betraying… no, not now.
“I…” Lucy began in Rayne, before gulping and having to make a slow and conscious effort for Uzuri. “<I found… something… something disturbing.>”
“<Please, you can speak in your native tongue, we can understand you fine at this point,>” Keona told her in near-perfect Uzuri.
He learned fast, these two must be serious.
Lucy nodded her thanks to the chieftains, though her teeth stilled chattered between words. “I… I found something among one of… one of our… a weapon, one I thought you might know.”
“<A weapon?> Basta?” Keona asked as he turned toward the other chief.
By the look on Basta’s face, he was not at all surprised to see her. His eyes matched hers, and it was like she didn’t even need to speak Quintus’s name.
“A weapon like a cleaver,” Lucy muttered, and Basta’s eyes nearly fell from her gaze. “You know it,” you know it’s Quintus’s, “what can you tell me?”
“<The cleaver… the cleaver is… not a weapon, but a tool, wielded by the most demonic of Seca… the followers of> Kodiack.”
“Kodiack?” Lucy repeated the name, the name not ringing any bells for her.
“<The God of Violence, the One Who Rules Below the Vile Line.>”
Now, the Vile Line was a name Lucy knew well. It was what the Krones, Secans, Susannans, and Rayne alike all called the equator, the center point of the planet. There, where it cut across the continent of Seca, was a wall, and it was always manned by the most powerful tribes on the continent.
The three nations of Gronina had an unspoken truce to never bother them during the war, lest they should not guard the Vile Line.
“And… this Kodiack, his followers wield… cleavers?” she asked with trepidation.
Basta nodded his head, “<Not just any followers, the monsters whose souls had been so corrupted by him over hundreds of years, that their skin turned blood red, and their eyes pure black. They are devourers of men, slayers of beasts, and hunters for mad sport, though they have lost all sense of reason and will. Creatures of impulse, monsters who had grown into behemoths greater than any shark mermaid queen, with strength beyond imagination.
“<The Kasai Riders.>”
The name made Lucy’s blood run cold, and the image of Quintus flowing with red mist filled her head. And to make matters worse, there was more for Basta to say.
“<Stories say they ride monstrous leatherbacks with jaws long enough to swallow a horse and race across the sands. But the Riders are faster than that on their own feet. Their mounts are weapons of death they drag around.>”
“And-and… the wielders of the cleaver, they’re Kasai Riders?” Lucy asked as the worst visages of Quintus ran through her head.
Her hands began to sweep over her face and through her hair as Quintus’s skin flashed red and grew to unimaginable heights. The savage look on his face that once seemed unthinkable days ago, would not leave the surface of her mind.
“No,” Basta said in her language to break her of her stupor. Instantly, her eyes pursed, and she could only stare as she waited with shaking legs for him to finish his words.
How could he pause on such an answer? Does he not see me and my agony?!
“<Kasai Riders are once and forever trapped below the Vile Line. The few who leapt over it, could not survive for more than a few hours before the curse of the gods stole their life from them…
“<But those were hours that ended the entire lives of many more.”
“<Those are stories from generations ago, with many saying the Kasai Riders stopped trying to breach the Vile Line because without their god leading them, they could not survive.>”
“So…” Lucy mumbled, trying to wrap her head around this.
Quintus couldn’t be this crimson creature, they can’t survive above the equator for some reason, and he’s been around for years. Is his weapon some sort of…
“Could a cleaver be an homage? A way to strike fear into people because they recognize a cleaver?” she asked Basta.
Basta pursed his lip, as he mulled over the thought.
“<It seems like a worthwhile tactic to me,>” Keona said, gripping his lover’s arm, trying to get him to speak rather than think to himself.
“<Ah, well, I supposed. It’s hard to put much of anything past warlords, but…>”
When he did not finish his thought, Lucy leaned forward, her hands sinking in and twisting all around the blankets. “What? Please, I need you to answer me, I can’t- I can’t not know what it was that I saw.”
Basta bit his lip, and bit down hard, seeing the fear that had overtaken the woman before him. This was a woman who could break a man in two, and yet she was clearly taken by fear. On this island, she was the only one with the strength to stand against the wielder of this cleaver if his suspicions were right, and she needed his guidance to go on.
Would telling her the truth really help?
“<Tell her,>” Keona bade him, which reminded Basta, that whether or not the truth would help, didn’t always matter.
“There… <there is… there are still the Death riders,>” Basta told her.
The mention of such a thing should have made her laugh.
Death riders? she told herself, the name sounding childish, the sort of nightmare a parent told their child to make them sleep. Death… riders?
Maybe it’s true though. Maybe one who is 36 years of age, is also 35, and 23, and 7, all at once. There’s always a part of who you were yesterday, in who you are today. Maybe it’s true…
… because the name meant to scare children made Lucy’s blood run cold.
Maybe it was the weakness in her mind that had followed her since Susanna. It was not only the name that seemed to undo her but the fireflies around her as well. They brought light to the tent, but they seemed to move in a visage only she saw, and flames only for her.
They moved in the form of an eye of hate and fury. She saw only Krera’s fire, the fear it sought it thought to instill.
Chief Basta’s words were background noise to the flames of God. They shifted from the form of a hateful eye to that of a man, one who struck a familiar and massive form. The fire made him seem almost like a drawing, with the hint of a smile as he gazed at her back over his shoulder.
But then the fire outlined his back muscles as they all tightened and contorted. They outlined every painful line in his face as she gripped his bald head and silently screamed into the night.
His muscles bubbled under his skin, and smoke released itself from his mouth, eyes, and ears until even the bubbles popped open his skin.
From the wounds, came the darkness and it seeped over his form. It blotted out the lines that gave him definition, detail, and humanity until he was nothing but a black form in the shape of a man. No expression, no skin, no anything.
Then his eyes opened red, and his mouth let flow a river of blood before he lunged for her.
Lucilla Nero didn’t scream, for it clutched her throat. A sharp pain went through her heart, and she clutched her chest. In the matter of a blink of her eyes, the eye of fire had returned.
Krera had returned.
She was God, and God wanted Lucilla Nero to know what only the eye could truly tell her.
‘Your God does not love you. Your God would see you burn.
‘But you will burn yourself.
‘Burn you will.’
Burn I will. Burn… burn I will.
Again and again, she repeated it to herself in her mind, hoping for it to come. Hedone awaits, but it is better to be there than to wait for it to come. Waiting for the end to come was worse than the end for most. The mind could think of worse faces for oneself than most gods could think up for them.
The minds that could think of nothing were worse than that.
The hand that cracked itself across Lucy’s face granted her the greatest of favors. It brought her to Earth, a haven from Hedone. Despite the sting, it was welcoming.
The prying eyes that followed were not.
Chief Keona still kneeled in front of her after slapping out of her hyperventilating trance. “<I’m sorry, Lucilla, are you with us?>”
Lucy did not understand what he said, her mind not prepared to understand any language but her first.
Basta pulled his partner back, warning him, “<You pulled her from the grasp of god, who knows what->”
“<It’s not a god that ails the mind,>” Keona interrupted him, “<the mind is well enough to poison itself.>”
Then to Lucy, he asked, “<Are you well->”
Lucy did not wait for him to finish. She turned and raced out of the tent. She ran and ran, not caring for the noise she was making. For once, the storm served as her friend, covering the sounds of her mad dash into nowhere in particular, just somewhere that was away.
Of the many things that haunted her — the God who hated her and the Death riders coming to end her — only one thought filled her head.
How could that be Quintus? How could one so good, so much better than most, be capable of turning into a monster?
A corruption most foul could not be accepted, who could? It was a betrayal of nature that such a thing could be true.
Yet, there was the cleaver, and there were the secrets and the signs. Everything was there for Lucy’s mind to deny.
Unprepared for how her foot would sink and the beach would swallow her up, she fell and tumbled through the sand. It stung her face at first, and the bits of it all throughout her hair made her hands clench.
If not for the rain beating down on her and washing away the sand for sin, she’d be clawing at her own head. The world was bearing down, putting as much weight on her as possible, wanting her to falter and fall to never rise again.
Then the blanket came down over her head. Large, dark, encompassing arms wrapped around her without ever letting her feel their weight.
By the time she turned to the one who sought to shield her from the storm, he had already kneeled down to her level, to appear as small as possible, to relieve her of fear.
How could you be a monster?
“Lucy,” Quintus muttered her name, “what are you doing out here?”
Lucy’s lip trembled, being without words and with too many thoughts. How could someone both make her feel so safe and so afraid? He was a monster, she had ignored the signs for so long, and yet she wanted to be in his arms.
His arms were safe, it wasn’t something she believed, it was something they all knew. He was the one who offered hugs, who held open his ear, whose shoulder was for crying on. How would any of them survive if all of those things were no longer there?
It would surely to better to die, along with the last bit of honest goodness. There was goodness in their world no doubt, and there was honesty in many ways, but so rarely were they one and the same. Quintus is a rarity, as long as I believe it.
So she fell into his chest, clinging to him, and found herself slowly swept up in his arms.
Lucy felt him pick her up, and begin to drag her somewhere. Whether it be to shelter or to strangle her with his true colors, it didn’t matter. If betrayal is the case, let me die so I can forget it just as quickly. I don’t want to know, not for long.
It was dark when he took her, into one of the caverns that lay underneath the cliffs of the isles. Here’s where he does it, she thinks, he can end it where no one can see him.
And so she waited, listening to the sounds of clanking rocks and breaking sticks. She waited for him to pick up his weapon, unable to bring the cleaver.
Then came the sound of wood rustling, and scratching against rock. Maybe he did bring it, maybe he has to sharpen it for my neck.
It would be understandable to think she would grow calm as the end drew near, but rather than grow calm, she was more overwhelmed. One can only tear oneself apart so much before their heart becomes still.
A calm light hit Lucy’s face and she opened her eyes to a fire, and Quintus next to it, admiring his work.
I am a fool who knows no bounds.
Quintus took a seat at her side, facing the way they came, looking and listening for the storm. “For how fast it took, this fire is building pretty good,” he said, taking a stick and pushing the fuel around, “if I do say so myself.”
What is wrong with me? she thought as she looked at that smile on his face. What if he doesn’t even know? What if…?
She thought back to the visage her hateful god showed her, and reflecting back on it, there was a smile on the monster’s face before he turned. The transformation appeared painful, maybe even… involuntary.
What if he doesn’t even know? What if he acts because he feels he must? Then that would make him like the rest of I guess. Another plaything for the gods.
“Quintus,” she spoke his name.
“Hmm?” he mumbled, as his eyes lit up at her calling his name. There was a look in her eye, one that laid a heavy weight on his shoulders, but he couldn’t shake it off. He was frozen in place.
“How… how do you know if you’re a good man, Quintus?” She asked an unknowable question, one that most people aren’t truly able to know.
It would have been brave to make her answer the question first, but he did not. Quintus stumbled instead. “Whoa, wow, I… I don’t know… I don’t think there really is such a thing as a good man.” She watched him look down at his hands and looked at those hands with him. They looked to see the proof of all they had done, and then she looked at her own.
She listened to him as she looked at her own hands, which as clean as they were, would always have a bit of blood between their folds.
“We’re all just trying our best here, all we can do is that, and sometimes none of us are the good guy, or all of us in our own way.”
Lucy’s hands closed and tightened. “But how do you know you’re a good person?” She looked up and asked him questions that should have been asked before either of them picked up their first sword. “What about when there isn’t a war or a conflict, how do you know you’re not the scum of the earth?”
Quintus stared at Lucy, his mouth barely open, unsure of what answer she could possibly be looking for.
“Lucy, what are you talking about?”
I’m… I’m not making sense to him, of course, I’m not making sense to him. There’s no sense in trying to make a good man question if he’s evil, at least not when there’s no god to guilt him.
She rested her face in her hands, trying to hold back the many different tears threatening to overwhelm her.
“I don’t know…” she admitted, “I don’t think I’m good people.”
“I think I’m worst,” she said, as she heard the shuffle of feet, and before she could speak, his arms were already wrapped around her holding her close.
No matter how many times he holds me, the warm feeling never gets old.
But it’s no cure.
“How great can I be?” she asked as her cheek rested against his bosom. “How great can we be, we’re mercenaries.” She waited for him to say something, to speak in response, but he had learned. All he did was gently stroke the top of her head and bid her on.
She raised her hand to wipe her nose, feeling the snot starting to come down.
“We… can be as quirky, and fun, and kind to all the little orphans of the world… but that doesn’t suddenly mean we’re not killers. When we go away and do bad things in another backwater country… none of it is undone when we come home and tuck all the poor orphan children into bed.
“We’re still killers, cowards… people die before of us… people die because of me, suffer because of me…”
“Who died, Lucy?”
Lucy paused, fearing to speak the words, to say the names of those who deserved to be named. Some names she did not know.
“Too many… too many I could have saved but chose not to… for me.”
“Hmm…” was all Quintus said as the stroking on her head slowed, and spoke enough. The longer his hand went patting her, the more she began to notice her own sweatiness and her own beating heartbeat.
Even with her ear against his chest, hers still beat louder than his.
“I don’t… I don’t know what it was like on the border with Endica… I don’t know if Krone is any more or less cruel over there than it is in Gronina. I just understand this, I don’t… I don’t hate the people who didn’t risk everything to free me.”
He… does he know?
“That’s because we brainwashed you to think that, we gaslight, lied, and manipulated you into thinking you were lucky, that you were better off being taught and owned by us…
“We all learn how to do it, you didn’t have a choice in the matter, in anything, and don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“You mean like you’re doing now?”
Lucy turned and looked up at him, and the arch of his brow. Rather than laugh, or smirk, or do anything resembling what his face would normally make her do, she bowed her head in shame. “Once a Krone, always a Krone.”
“You’re not a Krone,” he said, taking her cheeks in both hands.
As she slowly raised hers over his, holding them in place so she could feel as much of their warmth as she could, she asked, “Then what am I?”
His head tilted, as she turned to kiss the palm of his hand. “You’re legion, you’re my friend.” He made her head turn and look up at him, not his palm. “I don’t know anything else, I was a slave, as you have made painfully aware. I just know that I don’t care.
“When we joined the Black Legion, our past was the past. We cannot undo, we can only move forward.
“You’re so upset at the idea that you’re not a good person, Lucy, have you considered trying to be one? You don’t have to be a mercenary or a pirate, or maybe you find a way to make it work. But you have to try.”
He says it like it’s so easy.
Quintus leaned forward his lips moving towards her.
“But what?” he whispered. “It’s hard? All worthy things in life are, you are lucky that some are here willing to help you up.”
He would say it like it was the easiest thing in the world.
She stopped dead in his arms when his lips pressed on the side of her head. His lips were a sensation that made her run hot and cold at once. He was warm as always, but he kissed a place from which all heat left her brain.
He kissed the side of her temple, a rather familiar spot, considering she left a kiss there on him less than an hour before.
He couldn’t know.