241Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ170izF197D
The village in the South that the remnants of the Order had fled to was a small one, the daily life of which was largely dictated by tilling the fields or else working the nearby forest for lumber. It consisted of little more than a simple church with a single tall steeple and a number of little huts. In the six months that they had been there they’d managed to erect a barracks just outside of it that, though far from as luxurious or fortified as Greer Keep had been, was more than functional enough for their remaining numbers which hovered somewhere at just under 100 men.
The hooves of the hunter’s black horse clattered against the snow-clogged stones as he rushed through the streets towards their outpost just outside the city limits. Dismounting without waiting for his mount to come to a stop, he rushed into the building with the letter in hand.
“Lord Allegiant!” The knight turned at the sound of his voice. “A letter from the Thyone front. It would seem that their master has finally seen fit to identify himself to us.”
Taking the letter that the messenger had carried, he opened it quickly and read it over. “‘Thyone Lord Eros AshHand’?” Fury momentarily flashed across his features, the parchment crackling loudly in protest as his hands tightened into fists. “How dare that bastard think to take his name! Return to the front immediately; you and your brother’s must determine which of Lilith’s remaining children would dare taunt us in such a manner and then relay the information back. We will see that they pay.”
“Of course, my Lord.”
As the other hunter rushed back out of the room, the Order’s new Lord stepped back up to where he’d been standing at the window in order to finish reading the remainder of the communication by the fading light of the setting sun. Another handful of villages decimated. More deaths on their forces, causing their numbers to dwindle yet further.
I wish that you were still with us, Eros. You’d know what to do at a time like this.
“With as close as you were to him I would have expected you to know by now that my husband was far from sentimental when it came to matters of his work.” Folding the letter quickly so that she wouldn’t see what had been written, Cerdic glanced over his shoulder at Luciella as she left her place in the doorway and walked towards him. “Best friend and first follower though you were, if Eros had ever once for even a moment thought you were unable to perform as leader in his stead he’d have replaced you with someone who could.” Her green eyes were as clear as glass as they burned into him with a gaze that, though not hostile, was intense. Her long red hair was once again done back with a ribbon into a messy tail and a smudge of dirt was on her cheek. “Do you doubt that?”
“I don’t doubt his competence in electing me as his second in command all those years ago. However, I do question my own ability to lead as he did. As they need me to, with times the way that they are.” Luciella snorted in reply, her hands finding her hips in a display of stubbornness that succeeded in forcing a small smile from her friend despite himself. “But I wasn’t aware that I’d spoken aloud.”
Now her face softened, hands smoothing down the coarse fabric of the simple pants that she wore. “You didn’t. But the two of you-you and Eros both, though in much different ways-are the people who I love most in this world. My boys. My family. And, over the years, I’ve gotten to be good at reading both of your faces.”
“Hard to believe it’s been six months already since it happened.” Cerdic said, if only to break the silence between the two of them when he began to feel it had stretched too long. “How have you been faring?”
“As well as is to be expected.” Luciella replied quietly, her eyes downcast. “Eros was the love of my life, after all. I miss him, but...at the same time I feel as if he hasn’t died.”
“If he were still alive, Luciella, he’d have returned to us by now.”
“Not if something were wrong with him.”
“Wrong with him?” he repeated. “How do you mean ‘wrong with him’?”
“Are you sure that the ‘Thyone Lord’ is only claiming to be my husband?” her tone had sharpened now into something that seemed to dare him to lie, eyes dark as they came to rest on the letter still in his hands.
Recovering from his surprize after a few moments, Cerdic let out a heavy sigh. “You overheard?”
“Stop trying to shelter me from the truth, Cerdic! I may not be a warrior but I’m not a child! And, even as just a medicant, I’ve seen enough of the horrors of war by now that there’s nothing you could say to possibly make it any worse.” Her eyes were glossy now with barely held back tears evident in the quaver of her voice. “Answer me!”
“It isn’t possible, Luciella, that the Lord of the Thyone could truly be Eros.” He assured her in a worn but level voice. “Humans cannot become true Vampires. Cannot become one of the Dhampir, let alone a Lord of the Night. The blood children of Lilith. And an Apelat could never commit this much destruction, let alone communicate anything of who it once was. Eros is dead.”
“Lilith wouldn’t just kill him. Not after he killed her eldest son; she’s too cruel for that. And we can’t even begin to know the extent of her power.”
“That may be true,” he admitted with a marked reluctance, “but the light within him, surely, would spare him that ignoble fate. Our biggest concern now is the speed at which their forces are getting closer. They’ll get here soon, and when they do we’ll have to be prepared to fight.” Returning his gaze to the window, he looked out over the rolling fields to the smokey forms of the mountains rising far in the distance. “There will be no running this time.”