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It was dark outside the infirmary windows when Eros finally woke to find himself alone. Getting to his feet with some minor difficulty and hobbling quickly out of the room he charted a course for their to take a quick bath before changing into clean clothes and heading down to the cathedral on the lower floor.
As he’d suspected, he found the black haired knight kneeling at the front of the room before the altar amidst the dim light of a number of fading candles. Deciding better of disturbing him, he turned to limp out only to have his name called in a tone which, by this point in his life, had become all too familiar.
Unable to stop himself from smirking, the blonde turn back to face him. “Yes?”
The intensity of his silver gaze was stuck somewhere halfway between relief and exasperation. “The innocent act might work on Luciella and the others but I’ve known you since before either of us could competently crawl.” His armor clanked softly as he rose to his feet. “You weren’t attempting to sneak away I hope. We need to talk.”
“Sneak away?” Eros repeated in mock indignance. “Why, actually, I was merely leaving to come back at another time. As dire as the situation is-and I know it must be for Luciella to make me promise what she did-I simply thought it best that I didn’t disturb you.”
“Luciella has, I’m sure, chided you already on your running off on you own so I take it I don’t need to?” feeling like a reprimanded child, he dropped his gaze to the ground. “She told me what you did, and from your injuries I believe it. Though, might I ask, what in the nine hells and seven heavens possessed you to go running off after a Lord of the Night alone? ‘Greatest warrior to ever live’ or not, we could have lost you! Then where would we be?”
“You’re right. I suppose that it was irresponsible of me in a lot of ways but the people in that village couldn’t wait for us to mobilize. And, if anything happens to me, the Order has you to lead them.”
“It will be dark days for us if I ever have to step up to take your place.” Cerdic’s voice was worn when he spoke. Beside the pair, one of the candles flared brightly and went out. “But I fear that those dark days may be just on the horizon. You’ve heard of what is happening?”
Picking up another candle in order to relight the extinguished one, Eros shook his head. “I was told to speak to you.”
“The killing of Bleak Heart by your hand served to explain it; a massive force-an army-of Dhampir and their Apelat hounds are sweeping in from the North and will arrive in a fortnight,” He informed him grimly. “Kharon is at their forefront, and those she has not yet been seen we can assume Lilith isn’t far. It would seem that they’re finally intent on destroying us.”
“I’d been waiting for your return to make one.” The light of the flickering flames reflected in his eyes, turning them orange. “With how wounded that you are I hate to have to say this, but it may be that you and I will have no choice but to take the field in this coming battle.”
“Not us. Just me.” Eros set the candle back in its proper place before turning to peer up at the stained glass windows set high into the chapel’s stone walls. “This cannot be our last stand. Not at Greer. Not now. I will remain here and, with the majority of our forces, will engage them; once the fighting has started you will take Luciella and our best men and head South. You know to where.”
“I am not leaving you to face them alone. Not when it’s certain death that awaits you if I do; I am your friend and your second in command, but before all of that I am your vassal. I respect you, Eros, don’t ever think that I do not, but my respect for you and for your orders comes my duty to protect you.”
“I’m not a prince anymore!”
When their gaze clashed it was with equal stubbornness. “Do you really think that your setting aside your title changed anything? You will always be a Prince, Eros, because you cannot change the fact that there is royal blood in your veins no matter how much you might wish to.”
“My qualms with living out a life of grandior surrounded by the illusion of safety while others suffer aren’t the issue here.” His hands were shaking lightly, eyes dark and tone sharp with every word carefully and clearly pronounced. “If you stay, it will not change the outcome for our side. All that will be different is that we will both be dead, and that really would destroy us. Luciella cannot lead the Order, Cerdic, as she’s not a warrior. Only you can.”
“You know that I am right. You’ve seen the force that they have gathered, or at least have some idea of it, and know as well as I do that there will be no mercy and no survivors.” The anger seemed to leave him all at once and his posture sagged, the toll of his injuries and the stress of all that had happened in recent days suddenly becoming quite evident. “Will you take them South or not?”
The raven was more than a little bit reluctant, but after a few more seconds of defiance backed down with a sigh. “I’ll take them South. If you survive-.”
“I doubt that I will, but if I do I’ll head that way as well. But survival from this will take more than a miracle; rather than holding out hope for the all but impossible, I think it’s best that I focus my efforts on coming to terms with the reality of my death.”
“You’ve never been one to see things realistically before,” Cerdic noted with a small sardonic smile. “Why start now?”
The other’s only answer was a small shrug.
“Do you need any help heading back to your room?”
Eros shook his head, reaching out with one hand to steady himself against one of the rows of pews. “No, thank you. I think I’ll just stay here for a while longer, and then head up on my own.”
“I’ll leave you be, then.” As the knight’s footsteps faded down the aisle and out of the room the blonde collapsed backwards into the nearest wooden pew and dropped his head into his hands.
Had he been wrong all along? Wrong to think that he was some chosen warrior? Meant to be the one who would finally put an end to the darkness? Meant to be some great hero? “Why did you tell me that I was?” his voice was thin and bitter when he spoke, glaring through the slots between his fingers at the altar at the front of the room. “Why didn’t you just leave me to die in the forest, then, if a death here was all that waited for me?” But no answer came from the shadows lurking in the back of the room.
With the beginnings of doubt and betrayal spreading through him like a poison, Eros forced his body back to its feet and quickly fled the room.
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