The piece below is a kind of companion piece with the story Hannah put up last week, "The Person Next Door." If you're familiar with the Monomyth structure, you may recognize it here. I have to commend Hannah, though, for accomplishing her story with such economy. I was hoping to make this one between three and five pages, but there is no way I'm gonna bring it in that quickly.
The Order of the Blackened Glaive
Drakar can feel their stares, and he is tired of them. He knows what they say when he is out of earshot. Their whispers. Their fears. Their outright prayers for deliverance.
Devil-child. Demonseed. Creature of the night.
He has heard them all.
He had expected better from the men of the Legion of the Red Lord. It was a foolish expectation, he knows that now, borne of a foolish hope and a willful disregard for his own past experience. Tainted since birth with red skin, small nub-like horns, and even vestigial claws at the tips of his fingers and toes, Drakar’s heritage is obvious to all that behold him. He is a half-demon. Cursed with the blood of the very Pits of Tartarus running through his veins. As a child, even Drakar’s own mother scarcely knew what to do with him.
Nothing could be done.
Drakar knows naught of his father. His mother has always held that his birth was immaculate; that there was no father, that there was simply Drakar but no rational explanation. Drakar doubts this story entirely. Rarely has he met a less constant woman than the woman who gave him birth. Were he to possess a silver shilling for every time he has seen her end a night face down in a puddle of her own vomit, a bottle of whiskey nearby but nearly empty, he would not now need the Legion. His fortune would be made. More likely, he thinks, is that the affair happened but was forgotten. Either it was so a trifling an event that it failed entirely to register with her, or else it happened amid some evening of drunken carelessness, to much the same effect. Regardless, Drakar is here, and his mother’s failings—whatever they are—are writ large across his features in a most unmistakable way.
The Legion of the Red Lord is the militant arm of the Empire of Holy Sentralia. Consecrated to the god Mars, patron of war, and dedicated to the service of the Emperor, its members are said to fear nothing. Their philosophy is strict in the extreme. Through war comes conquest, through conquest comes civilization, and through civilization comes justice and truth. The Legion admits no room for discussion or debate, no vaguery or nuissance of belief. They bring the sword and the spear, and with these, they force others to bow to the Empire’s will. Drakar is descended of Pit—of Orcus, the scourge of the Underworld, bringer of justice, and punisher of broken oaths—and it is for this reason that he had hoped to find allies in the Legion. Their philosophy had seemed a natural fit for one whose very nature is the punishment the wrongdoing of others, and yet…
It has not been so.
Drakar has grown up fighting. With the eldritch cast of his features, he knows now that this was inevitable. All his life, he has been a target for a certain kind of boy. When he was young, they were bullies. Out to make a name for themselves at the expense of one who was smaller and weaker than themselves. Later it was much the same, but as Drakar grew, they began to come in packs, and they named their attacks justice or vengeance. They invoked community or the greater good. Drakar cared nothing for their fancy names and less for the excuses they gave to violence against one who had done them no wrong. He fought where he could, and occasionally he triumphed. At other times, he merely endured. Whatever their reasons, those boys trained Drakar well. When the Legion recruiters came, he was ready. He had to fight to be accepted by the Legionnaire, but by that time, violence was a ready and willing friend.
Unfortunately, those same kinds of boys still abide. They were in Drakar’s village, and they are here as well, within the walls of the Sentralian Military Academy. They watch him now wherever he goes. With the Legion’s training behind him, Drakar has become too dangerous for them to move against directly. It would take too many to overcome Drakar; blood would flow, and the Academy establishment would be forced to launch a formal investigation. But still they watch and wait for their opportunity. Even some of the instructors harbor a grudge, the ghost of some imagined slight inspired by Drakar’s infernal nature, but Drakar cares not. He is but a twelve-month from graduation and a commission with the Legion. He will lead their soldiers and earn his place—at last—on the field of battle. Nothing and no one can prevent this, though some, of course, may wish to try. Drakar does not fear them, but neither will he give them an excuse.
Magister Zachaes is one who would see Drakar fail. “Drakar, you’re late!” he cries.
Drakar stops instantly. He is not late, he knows as much, but Zachaes is a magister, so his word is law. Drakar hates the unfairness of it, but he knows well the futility of protesting fairness. It angers him, and that anger flows like a torrent from the very depths of his soul. It is an unreasoning thing, all-consuming, and it very nearly overwhelms him. His eyes burn like fire, and a small part of him wonders if this is the very Pits of Tartarus trying to break free within him, or if it is merely the effect of a life spent in company with too many miseries inflicted too callously through too many years.
Always there is this voice at the back of his mind:
The Pits are deeper than your theology will allow…
With an effort, Drakar pushes this aside and bows. “Your pardon, Magister. It will not happen again.”
The magister is about to say something, but a pair of cadets, Drakar’s classmates, run in behind him, leaving Zachaes in a bad position. Zachaes can punish Drakar—and his classmates—for their supposed tardiness, or he can let his efforts lapse with a warning. This is clearly not the outcome the magister had hoped for.
“See that it doesn’t,” Zachaes says at last. He looks Drakar in the eyes and then turns away, and from that single look, Drakar can see that the matter has not ended.
So be it.
Drakar’s sleep that night is troubled. Perhaps it is because his rage at Magister Zachaes has not abated, perhaps it is simply the restless truth of a life lived among enemies. Regardless, Drakar tosses and turns for an hour at least, and when sleep does finally claim him, it is cold and troubling. It is as though the Pit is there, yawning before him, swallowing him whole.
Drakar finds himself in a dark, windswept land. Eddies of breeze kick up dust from the ground, but beyond that, there is nothing but the moaning of the wind. Drakar is alone. Or is he? He turns and finds three maidens standing before him, dressed in black in the manner of the Legion. Dark plumed helms sit atop their heads, black iron breastplates and pauldrons, mail skirts and grieves, and even boots made of this same black iron. One holds a spear, one a bow and a quiver, and one a sword and shield. The three are silent, but they hold Drakar with their eyes. These eyes are empty and unremittingly black.
The Pits are deeper than your theology will allow…
“Who are you?” Drakar asks. “What do you want from me?”
The three speak in unison. “We speak for your mother, Drakar. She has sent us as her messengers.”
“My mother?” Drakar sneers. “Each of you wears armor that is worth more than my mother will make in a lifetime. What can my mother possibly have to say through you?”
“Not the mother of your flesh, Drakar. Your true mother. The mother of your spirit.”
“Has this mother a name?”
“She has many names. You may call her Nyx.”
“I know her not,” Drakar replies.
“Aye, but she knows you.”
“Then speak your message and begone,” Drakar says. “This is a dream, and you are but ghosts sent to haunt me.”
“We are more, Drakar. Much more.”
“Idle talk,” Drakar says. “Words come easy.” And yet, even as he says this, he feels disquiet settling around him.
“Foolish Drakar,” the three say. Their eyes are unblinking, their stares unwavering. “Even you know that your words are empty. It is irrelevant. Your mothers sends a message of hope. To end your suffering. There is a place for your, though the journey will be hard.”
“A place?” Drakar asks. It is unreasonable to listen so closely to the voices of strangers, but against all logic, hope springs within his breast. “What place? What are you talking about?”
“The Order of the Blackened Glaive, Drakar. The Hellknights. They serve your Emperor, but they are pledged to your mother… and to her son, the Fiend of Tartarus. You must go to them. Take your place amongst their number.”
“I have never heard of this Order,” Drakar says, “and could not go to them, even if I wished it. I am sworn to the Legion. My place is here.”
“No,” reply the three. “Your oaths were given, but the Pact has not been sealed. The Legion has played you false, and even now, they come to unmake what you have earned.”
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