“There comes a point for all leaders, from the modest bakery manager to the grandest military generals, where they are faced with their first test. That point may not come for years, or it may come in the first hours or days of leadership, but it is critically important. It is a question.“The Practice of Leadership”
“What kind of leader are you going to be?”
The Fortress-Temple’s plains rang with the sound of battle, the 8th and 3rd Legions clashing in a swell of steel and flame. On the periphery of the conflict, Torvax downed a loyalist and paused to take stock of the battle around him. The soldiers were dense, a mass of insects ripping and tearing at one another’s flesh, save for the telltale pocket in the center of the field where both sides receded – his comrades in awe and his enemies in fear. The Commander and his brother.
The thought made him want to spit.
A swift strike to the shoulder and the shrill sound of glass on chain interrupted his reverie and Torvax crumpled to the ground. Acting on instinct, he scrambled forward on hands and knees, pushing himself to a stand and into a run towards the walls. He could hear footsteps behind him, a steady clink clink clink of their armour as they pursued, but he could not look back, focus only on escape.
He would not die here, not for Them, and he would sooner kill himself before he went meekly to a cage again.
He heard the blade sing past his ear, miss him narrowly, and he redoubled his efforts. The walls were close now, and too late he realized they would be of little use to him with no route inside the fortress here and no allies to aid him. Turning, he brought his own blade up in defense, his heart jolting as he recognised his pursuer.
Varix smiled as she saw the fear in the vak’s eyes, and swung twice, Torvax ducking under the first before the flat of the blade caught him on the upswing, sending him to the ground, vision swimming. He rolled onto his back quickly, scrambling away from the enemy captain bearing down on him. Varix’s boot clamped down hard on Torvax’s blade and he released it instinctively, pushing himself away from her as fast as he could.
“Any last words?” asked Varix with a smile. Torvax tried to speak but the words did not come. She delivered a swift kick to his head, then placed a foot on his chest, pinning him.
She raised her sword, and Torvax saw once again what it was like to look death in the eye. This time, however, he did not feel fear, only rage. White-hot anger that this was his lot, to die here on this field for a vak that would not remember him, that did not know him, that did not deserve his loyalty.
The blade began to descend.
Her eyes narrowed.
“I can help you!”
Torvax struggled against the bonds. Karith had done them tight.
His temple ached and burned hot, and his right eye was welded shut with dried blood. A knot in the tree dug sharply into his back, but he no longer cared.
“Now you will know me, Commander. Now you will know my pain.”
His head lolled forward, and he spat the bloody mess his mouth had filled with onto the grass. The loose tooth scraped against his cheek as it was expelled in the red water. He grimaced, then looked to his right as a green tail snaked around the tree and out of view.
“I told you he never cared.”
“You did what you had to.”
Blood trickled into his mouth.
“A pity the others will die.”
He could feel her breath on the side of his face as she leaned in close.
“But it’s his fault, not yours.”
Slowly, he felt a blackness begin to wash over him, waves that beckoned him to sleep.
He could hear her grinning.
“They abandoned you too.”