Chapter III

There's a natural beauty from the top of a fight. If you got to sweep over the fight like a bird, you'd see something so much more beautiful than any one soldier could see.

One soldier sees something scary. Just one soldier sees the way the world is, for him, and how dangerous it is to be alive. But, if you soar over it, like a bird, you're not afraid, you have no fear, you're not the ones fighting. When you're removed from the battle, you look at it with such zeal and appreciation for its beauty to this world. I'm sure the sun and moon's constant struggle means nothing to them, but us watching it, we are mesmerized. The same goes for the way humanity has devolved.

What one man sees is simple: he sees his own mortality. He runs forward in a wave with the rest of his sworn brothers, all gripping to worn swords and tattered faith, screaming from the bottom f their lungs their conviction from the top of their hearts. They crash into the enemy, like a wave on a beach of protruding rocks. From there, elbows and knees become the modus operandi, between some pushing mechanic and close-quarters melee, feeling more like a busy street than a fight.

One man, he sees a simple thing. He throws each arm and leg forward, as if to push further, punch in, stab in, kick down, just viciously thrusting into a wall of flesh and of sin. Lurching back for a single step, before screaming a roar and lashing back into those enemies, bringing a heavy sword down with a large over-head arc, viciously and viscerally taking in that little blood squib that pops out from an exposed lacerated vein, enjoying its flavor and wetness on his face.

This every man had one problem, though. This was the way it always was, but it never ended the same. If the battle was obvious, then it was obviously flawed. It always took a bit of rarity and uniqueness to make the battle feel old-hat, as odd as it sounds. It requires something to be off for it to be just right. When it feels complacent and familiar, it means you've taken it for granted. It means you're about to die, so you have to never be comfortable, never think you understand, always be weary.

Being weary was something Quint Darton was used to. His life was one of worn-out antiquity and of melancholy repetition. Maybe not weary, no, but bored. He was on his toes, simply because it was habit. He posed a definite perpendicular stance to the way these things usually went down. If you were supposed to always be scared to live, he would not be scared, but would come out unscathed, just to spite the way it was supposed to be. Or, he would only be scared because he felt no fear, scared that he was not following what it should be like. It never made a whole lot of sense.

Being weary was something Armand Volens had grown very accustomed to. Volens was not a man to be trifled with, or to scoff at. He had seen more battles than most men currently in service to the Castitas, and had the stories, scars, and age to prove it. Volens was a man whose weariness came from good nature, knowing better than to be complacent in a battle, even if like every other one. He found his weariness in the inherent thought of seeing those without any weariness over the years, then saying the blessing over their cold bodies hours later. He was no fool, he was a man of wisdom after his age.

Being weary was something Lucas Trucido found an increasing commodity. Trucido had been in battle before--that was not a question. He had slain his first Caeca when he was fourteen, under the tutelage of a Castitas camp where refugee children were educated in the Bible and given a place to eat, live, and stay, with the intention of joining the ranks at their sixteenth birthday. Instead, Trucido found that being the first in the battle, the Erus, was a thing he had never thought of doing. The feeling of that wind rushing by as he sprinted forward, knowing thousands of boots rushed behind him, but none in front, made him feel alone in the world. When he first swung his sword, he closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them again, he would have white robes around him, men fighting beside him. He kept his eyes closed and kept swinging.

The blood was the same. Darton knew how it felt, how it tasted, how it flowed, and how it bled. He had killed enough to know exactly how it would react. He knew where to cut, where to slice, where to kick, and where to stab to yield that crimson prize. It was like a little goodie to be found in battle, as if the surge would be paid back with the elixir of vitality, slowly draining from the enemy. It was like the power of being a god in being able to take that which He hath given away. Or, that's how Darton thought about it. He would smile, turning from one to the next as he continued a flurry, letting the tip of his blade drown in blood.

The blood was comforting. Armand Volens had been bathed in the baptism of his enemy's sanguine life before, many times. He could remember choking on it when he tripped into puddles of it so high in the streets of reclaimed cities, spitting out the bitter and lethal taste, only to have it never leave. Sometimes, Volens still tasted it. Each one of his swings and stabs was precise, quick and controlled, not strong and vicious, but exacting. He let no excess blood spill on him, he let none splatter over the top of him. After every slice, he moved the blade so it cut the wind, flicking off the spare flecks into the air or onto the men around him, letting none onto himself. Blood only truly splatters when the man does not know how to kill successfully. Blood was meant to bleed slowly, not explode, and if you know to kill correctly, the blood will bleed.

The blood was glorious. It was sobering. It enabled Trucido, it brought him to life. Every one of those wild swings enabled him to feel more enraged, encouraged, stronger, and more capable. His first few swipes used one hand, using his other for balance or a counter-weight, but he found both hands gripping his blade now, swinging in broad arcs with all the force of his young shoulders. The sinews and fleshes cut under his growls and violent swings, the trickling blood sliding off of his sword and onto his hands, the enemies falling into pools of their own guts, being stepped on and kicked as Trucido pressed further forward.

Weariness and blood.

We are given the opportunity so rarely to look at the way this world works. It is as if we are too busy living, trying to live, or understanding what life is, that we never stopped to verify our existence. Maybe that's what I have found, finding that books and stories have a place in my world. It is no lie to say no book has been written in some time, no real book. When I found them, when I found those books and those stories of old, I was captivated. I knew the greatest story I had ever seen was one I witnessed, one I lived. Here, I can see the way the world is, the story that God engineered, and tell it to you, my reader. We both gain enlightenment, we gain holiness, through understanding His story. We are given a chance to see his work, from beginning to end, and see how He has made everything beautiful for its own time.

I speak of battle and of war because I am desensitized. I speak of it in terms of weariness and blood because I understand it. I speak of these things because they are the way in which we view them. Maybe not the way that a civilian understands it, since they understand we are their shields and protectors, we are their lease on another day of life. But, to us soldiers, us men of the Castitas, we see our deaths and our war in a way that makes us numb. Sure, some of us still have a fear, some of us still view every day as a blessing, but most of us, we are blind vessels.

The religion we spout, it seems almost superficial or superfluous. While many believe it, many espouse it, I found myself hard-pressed to find a true believer. It was always easier to damn God when He didn't do what you wanted. Controlling your own fate, or better yet, the fate of the man standing next to you, was too much a burden to hold sometimes, and it was easier to just think God controlled those fates. I know not whether or not the fate I have chosen, or that of any man I met, was one we exercised ourselves or one we were determined to go along. I can argue both sides, but I believe God had to have a hand in it. Otherwise, it's too damn cold at night to think that there's no one to bring the warmth in the morning.

The battle was a silent affair for a while. Since Trucido was the first to engage in the fight, granted by his position and his eagerness, it took the rest of the Castitas a few seconds sprint to gain up and be tangled up in the thick of it as well. This leant itself towards an extra few kills for Lucas Trucido, but also that many kept a weather eye pointed to Trucido's position. This always happened, with most soldiers watching the Erus for his commands or morale, but everyone was watching with slight eyes hoping to see him fall under a blade.

His first few attacks in the blood and weariness were heavy ones. The enemy force rushed in forward as well, loping and leaping with their animalistic gout. Upon the shrill scream of Undecim, the forces all seemed to mobilize and lunge forward. They met Trucido first, but were quickly thinned out with the interspersed white coats. Those first few attacks were blind ones, Lucas' eyes shut, but his anger and need for proof strong.

He barreled in with his shoulder, deflecting off of the side of one of the beasts. Using the awkward momentum, he brought his sword into a horizontal slash to the next Caeca behind the first one. The tip of his sword, wielded in both gloved and gauntlet-laced hands, made a clean cut through its neck, and keeping the swing, Trucido flipped his grip and brought the blade upward as he turned, catching the off-balance first Caeca that he had knocked with his shoulder. The choking and bloody gurgle of the one slit through the neck was quickly replaced, as the body was stomped flat by an approaching unit behind it, hissing a growl and then attacking, not caring for its wounded brethren.

This approaching one took a heavy downward swipe at Trucido, who vainly tried to hold his sword in a cross-block. His elbows and knees buckled under the blow, and he fell backwards, the sword vibrating in his bony hands. The beast raised for another heavy, smashing-like vertical slice, again blocked by Trucido, who found his back nearly to the ground, one knee propped up and the dead carcass of the other Caeca he had tackled then slashed. Upon the advancing enemy's raised hand, for a third blow, Lucas quickly brought his sword to the demon's exposed kneecap. The Caeca fell to the side, its leg unraveling in bloody sinew as the sword was pulled back, the sinews and tendons unfurling like wire. It screamed, but not in pain; its whine was of anger that it lost the ability to stand. Quickly finding footing, Trucido brought down his weapon into its ribcage.

With a ferocious rip, his blade was soaked, three Caeca dead in front of him, and he was breathing hard. The last breath escaped that third dead, a dual-voiced hiss of both a deep grunt and a sad sigh. The footsteps of fellow soldiers surrounded him, their deep war-cries filling the air and their meeting weapons being the percussion to their vocals. The dead Caeca were quickly lost to the fog covering them, and trampled underneath the advancing soldiers. Small gobs of blood were splashed up from the hidden pools, joining old stains on every soldier's pant's cuffs. The force of the enemy was also flowing into a line of contact, with the two armies making a line divided by color.

While the white coats of the Castitas stood out on the blue morning, the grotesque disfiguration and colors of the Caeca glistened. It was a feeling of cleanliness versus disorderly, or the face of organization versus natural order. While every Castitas had the same wardrobe, except for rank insignia, no two Caeca were alike.

One army was dressed in a standard monk-meets-brute get-up. The standard dress of the Castitas was a four-piece uniform. There were a pair of white pants, tailored en masse, and flexible. They were made of a material that was useful under many conditions, like all military standard-issue equipment. Nothing had only one use. The pants had a woven liner of water-resistant plastics, or something, that enabled it to catch water, if used for a funnel to get clean water during a rain. This meant it was hard to stain them, since it repelled wetness, but if something sat on the material long enough, or soaked, it would stain, and then it would never come out. There was blood on some Castitas pants from over a hundred years, probably.

The pair of pants was made of the standard material used by Castitas uniforms. It was a nomex-weave, meaning it would not catch fire, and would also do the whole wetness-retention thing. Above the pants came a shirt, just a normal tee-shirt, nothing big. Over this was a long trench coat that draped to the ankles, which was embroidered with commendations and a colored lapel that signified class and rank. The collar was stiff and raised, as was the double-weaved material. It could keep a man warm and it could also be shelter. On top of the trench-coat came a draping top-piece, harkening to the style of friars or monks. It had a v-neck for the collar of the trench coat, and was also embroidered for rank and commendations. It only came down to above the elbow, but was fastened by a center cross.

The center cross was a black-bordered material, but the center color would indicate rank and class. This cross came across the chest, buttoned to the top-piece and trench coat, then tucked into a large belt that came over all of the layers. The belt was just a standard one, fastened with a metal plate in the center. It was standard tradition for a soldier to carve some nickname or word into his belt buckle. The rest of the cross draped between the legs, looking like a large crucifix on every soldier.

I bet the Caeca thought it was a target.

There was no uniform for the Caeca. Their nakedness was not the beauty of God, as Blake would have said. Their nakedness was the abhorrence and insult to the Lord. Their existence and creation was one of sin, not of virgin birth or of mere original sin. They had no Eden, they were spawns of a place without beginning. It's hard to think something has a meaning when it has no end. If we can't see things from beginning to end, then we should at least be able to see the beginning or the end. Their beginning was one of absolute desecration, nothing holy about it. So, their existence has to be unholy, right?

I mean this simply because they're ugly. They are the types of things you have nightmares of. Imagine the beasts of this world, the animals that prey on others in the night, the ones whose cries pierce the quiet night to keep children up for hours, the types of animals that leave their carrion for wanderers to find and have pity on that rotting offal left. Their actual history and creation is one that is actually not entirely known, and it is not for secrecy. Instead, it's just a lack of information.

We're not entirely sure how, or why, these things came about. Although, those answers are shone somewhat later. Knowledge becomes so incredibly powerful to this story I have to tell, both learned and experienced. Empirical knowledge, while the competitor to rational knowledge, is equally important. God has to have a Satan to counter him and show Him to be just (versus the unjust of a character like Satan), just as knowledge learned and knowledge found are the sides of a coin which must exist. If only we had learned, I doubt we'd learn a damn thing.

In all of my years in this world, I have only seen three types of Caeca. This does not mean more exist, or that there are things I have not seen. Although, I think some of the structure is meant to mirror our pitiful structure. Much of this war happens with an unseen equality that many take for granted, and it took me a long time to realize it. The three types are not so delineated as they are the Castitas, but rather seen. The Caeca are enemies like us, since they share human qualities, but they have more in common with that of beasts.

The first type shares relation with a wolf, or some sort of lethally quick predator. They are characterized by their ability to leap and pounce, as well as to move incredibly quickly. They are smaller in size, but have scrawny arms and legs. Not to say this foul little bugger walks on all fours, since it can stand upright (and does), but it runs on all fours with the speed of a jackal. The hind legs, though, are double-jointed, allowing that canine movement. The face protrudes slightly, with a jaw and nose that seem to slope into each other. From this jaw is a set of ravenous teeth, yellowed and splintered, which fit the other parts of this creation. The arms and legs, while skinny, are littered with excess bone growths, looking like thorns on a rose. This one is an enemy normally known for its lethality and speed. Dealing with them means getting the first attack, and making it the only one needed.

The second type is a surprisingly human-looking ilk, compared to the others. It stands upright, runs upright, and would make you piss yourself. While the predator type is able to scale all sorts of junk that makes you angry at the human design for being incapable of climbing, this one sticks to the same rules. Well, besides being incredibly, brutally strong. Standing at a general seven-feet and a chest just as broad, they are brutes. Their bodies are hard as rocks, and their strength makes trying to exchange blows with them an exercise in futility. While the previous type are gifted with natural weapons in the form of their grotesque body, these types use rudimentary weapons, like rusted scraps of metal, rocks, or their fists. You don't try to combat these Caeca, you avoid them and dodge them, looking to stab and slice between its slow movements.

The third type, rarely used, is a rather gigantic brute. Think the former, except about three times the size. They are usually used in trying to stop escaping M.T.s, and have been known to be nearly impossible to kill. Their fists are their weapons, and you're nothing but a mess of blood and bone if you try to kill it. An old rumor is that an old Erus, whose name didn't survive as much as his deed, killed one by himself. A fleeing M.T. was leaving some city, and the Erus decides to jump off and do some self-sacrifice, and take on this giant brute, stalling him from lumbering forward and taking out the transport. The lone Erus gave his life in slaying the giant brute by himself, saving the cowering citizens. They got away, but after he finished killing the brute, he was overrun with the rest of the Caeca chasing that M.T. The price of glory seems to be your life these days.

Of these three types, there are some basic rules. Don't run from the first ones, don't fight the second ones alone, and pray if you fight the third ones. The individual uses and characters of these types will become known to you as the battles wage on in this story in late summer of 2217.

If my reader believes now this is getting ridiculous, I agree. Looking over my text, I feel as if I have to explain to you how a baby is born next. I do not want to patronize or act like I have something to lecture, as I only wish to inform. This is what we know, and these are things we take for granted. You do not ask why the stars shine just for you at night, and I do not question these things about these types of enemies. To some people, they will never know the difference, and see them all as ugly brutes. But, when you fight them like I have, you learn the intricacies of some of these different variations. Be warned, though, as no two are the same, just as no two men are the same. What the Caeca share in common is not their physicality, but their minds.

This knowledge is known to all soldiers of the Castitas. Either sitting around a fire on the ruins of a newly won city, over a cigarette in the mess halls, or while in the middle of training, the only thing to do is to tell stories. Stories of how to kill the fast ones quickly, or that the guy in that squadron got promoted to first class for killing one of the humanoid ones by overpowering it, or that three guys together all killed one of the giants. It is learned and experienced.

The experience carries over well to a soldier like Quint Darton. His experience was absolutely top-notch, despite his ranking. This became evident if you fought next to him, or had the displeasure of being a Caeca standing in front of him. It also became evident, if you knew him beyond the battlefield, that the ability to kill wasn't enough to warrant him any merits.

That made no difference to Darton, though. So long as he got to do this, he was fine, until it ended. Off the battlefield, his mind told him a thousand different things, and his mouth said a thousand more. But, he could never deny that feeling he got when he was doing exactly what he was doing now: being a soldier. From one Caeca to the next, he moved like a saint, quick and lethal. While his squadron had lost its cohesion on the battlefield, he had absolutely no care. He didn't need to know the man's name next to him to trust him to protect his back.

Darton found himself wandering the battle, taken where his sword edge would take him. One Caeca would lunge forward, and he would side-step it quickly, swiping at the extended claw, lopping it off into the fog, then continuing his first slash with a second stab. A kick of the dead grunt off of his blade, and he would scream, lunging at the next, grabbing it by the back of its neck and using that to stab his sword in as deep as he could, pushing harder and harder until it stopped twitching in his grip. Ripping the blade out, and taking a squirt of blood with it, Quint would turn once more to another Caeca.

The enemy would stop, looking at him. Its had would twist slightly, like a dog's, the eyes turning over themselves in its head, thinking. The blood-red eyes would then refocus, a growl would follow, and it would leap onto Darton. A second later, it would have its guts being splayed out onto the ground, wheezing as its lungs filled with its own fluids. It was a short-lived agony before Darton's boot met its temple.

His fighting was quick and efficient. Within minutes, he had already killed over a dozen, moving from one to the next with ruthless efficiency. Men would either be fearful or astounded of his presence. Darton gave absolutely no quarter to any of them, not a care in the world. Any thanking on behalf of a man he saved or any congratulatory remark went without reciprocation from Quint. Instead, he would just look around him, see the bodies, then run off to where the next batch of the Caeca were.

While Darton's experience leant him knowledge on how to be merciless to the enemy (not to say that they aren't equally as merciless), Armand Volens used his overwhelming experience to a more suited advantage. Volens knew that the best way to fight was with another man. He had served closely under Marius Antea, and was a good friend, which factored into his friendship with Trucido, and his consequential role as a guardian for Lucas. Being a good friend of Antea had blessed him with many, many battles and many, many scars. He had seen far too many good men die, and the only reason Volens stood was for those good men's lives.

Armand kept a close watch on any soldiers in his proximity, especially those in his squadron. Their value was far beyond that of killing a couple Caeca, because these men could kill hundreds, if only they can see tomorrow. And, for every breath they took and every Caeca they killed, it was one Armand didn't have to kill or worry about. Volens fighting was crisp and rehearsed, blocking and moving with ease against the carnal and primordial style the Caeca employed.

You could always bet on a Caeca attacking you head on, or trying to overpower you. They had no real "way" of fighting, beyond that which could be observed in nature. The way a wolf stalks its pray and attacks, that's how you expect them to fight. Or, to try and just rush through and take out as many as that individual Caeca could before it expired. There was no individual value of a soldier of the enemy's forces, meaning that their tactics were very blind.

For Armand, he knew this. And, he knew how to combat it. If none of these Caeca matter to Aequitas, then it should not matter if he attacks whom he should. Attacking a Caeca already engaged in another fight was a quick way to kill one, or to gang up on one. He was a smart fighter above anything else, and through his years, he had found the "sweet spots". He knew where to stab, where to slice, and where to capitalize. Most times, he never actually killed a Caeca, only did what he needed. Stabbing one right in the bottom of its hips, slicing through the tendons controlling leg muscles, he would rip out his sword and let the thing bleed to death or be trampled in its incapacitated form. Or, he would find a way to break a wily little one's back with a blunt smash of the back of his sword, letting it drown in a pool of blood that it couldn't squirm away from. He never saw the death all the way through, since it wasn't necessary. If it falls to the ground, it is dead anyways, since there never will be a Caeca who will try to run from a fight or not stand to embrace it. If it's on the ground, it means it can't help but be down there.

The battle waged on. For about an hour, no side was gaining ground. The line remained firm, and where one man fell, three Caeca did as well. Where the front squadrons were cut down, green recruits jumped up to whet their blade and appetite. The fight stayed on its stage of fog-covered banks in the front of the entrance to the hidden Parisian Castitas Headquarters, letting the morning sun turn to noon. When it continued to rise, the fog was being driven away. The fresh dew on the tips of the blades of grass were kicked and splashed by bodies, leaving that fresh morning scent and atmosphere give way to a dawning of death. After the mist cleared, the bodies could be seen. The blood pools hidden under the gray now reflected the blue sky and sparkled in the sun as it coagulated. The carcasses started to smell.

The line remained resilient in all but one place, and that was where Undecim had made her stand. I have not told you much of Undecim, considering not much is known of her. She represents something unique. While other Caeca are altered beasts, whose skin barely fits their bones, and dried blood sits in the cracks of their furry backs for weeks, she is beautiful. Where they are brutal and primordial, she is graceful. Where the normal beasts are aggressors without tactic, she is a fighter that has no rival. There is something uniquely human about her, and that is what makes her so incredibly dangerous. The reason, although, is complicated. We don't know why Aequitas, our unholy enemy, would make troops such as the beasts we fight, and yet have one stunning, human looking Caeca in the center of it.

It was a mistake the first Erus to encounter an Ascended made. He had approached the battle, both of the armies lined, and then walked to find out why there was some beautiful girl standing in the center of the battle, twirling like a child, talking in poetry or something. When realizing she was a Caeca, he tried to kill her immediately. All that happened was that he was killed, bare-handed. As he reached for his sword, claiming God readying his swing, she grabbed his wrist and neck with her outstretched arms. Then, she broke both effortlessly. We learned that in those pre-battle ceremonies, if we didn't try to kill the Ascended, they wouldn't kill us. Maybe Aequitas enjoys toying with us like that.

The line was stalemate everywhere, except for where Undecim was. No other Caeca was around her, and yet the ground piled with white coats. Somewhere, Aequitas was watching the battle, through the eyes and senses of every single Caeca on the battlefield. Aequitas knew not to put any Caeca around Undecim, as she would be fine on her own. And, it posed a challenge, as if any man near Undecim would try to kill an Ascended, or just go fight the real battle. The tactical benefit might be to use Undecim with a force of Caeca to cut through the Castitas, but that's not what happened. It never made sense on the side of the Caeca, but we're not expected to understand, I guess.

Her grace was something beautiful. The preferred weapon of an Ascended changes between every new one. The ten previous Ascended units that the Castitas have faced have their heads plastered on the interior walls of a room in Kallipolis like prize heads from a hunt. Their flesh never rots, they do not deteriorate, and they are perfect trophies. It is especially odd, but even the first Ascended fought and killed looks the same as the newest dead, about a year prior to this story, one of two killed by Marius Antea. Each Ascended looks different, to be sure, but their condition and beauty are unparalleled and equal. Whatever reasons Aequitas has in engineering such magnificent things for us to kill is unknown, but it never feels good for any father in the Castitas to have to see an Ascended, as thoughts of any man's beautiful little girl will spring to mind. Maybe that's why Aequitas does it.

Undecim's weapon of choice seemed to be a scythe. Well, as much a scythe as could be constructed by Caeca hands. It was a long rusted piece of thin metal, reinforced with the visible hammer marks and blackened fire-scorches along its length. It was fastened to a metal rod, welded but also strung with a thick strap. The blade wasn't an example of craftsmanship, since it was warped and imperfect, but its function was absolutely unprecedented. It was strong, it was sharp, and it was in the hands of an Ascended. They could be holding a fork, and I'd feel unequipped even if I was brandishing a sword.

Men leapt forward with embittered cries, swords lashed to their wills, swiping at Undecim. It didn't matter how many men rushed her at once, she prevailed. Four men would leap at her, all at once, stabbing and slicing. Any normal person or Caeca could not dodge, evade, or block four at once. They neither had the agility, dexterity, or reflexes. An Ascended did, though. She would bend her back, like dancing, under one sword, turning her body as she rolled out of it, coming underneath an extended weapon. Her blade would ride up the leg and through the chest of one of the men, Undecim turning as her blade exited his collarbone, and swinging it around again to cut cleanly through the outstretched arms of another man. His scream would punctuate the growls of the other two soldiers, and they would try and both attack Undecim. One sword deflected, the other grabbed by the hilt, and Undecim would take the third man's sword, stab him through with it, then bring her scythe down into the fourth man, dragging that gurgling man back into the third man's own sword, dying together like meat on a stick.

Then, she would giggle, dance again, and seduce any other man into overcoming her.

All the while, her movements were graceful. She did not leap back and then jump forward with outstretched arms, trying to overpower and beat an enemy to death with brute strength. She flowed with every step, each of her actions and reflexes second nature. She moved swiftly and softly, as if the accompanying screams were somehow the wrong tune to be played to her ballet. The way she moved so fast and brought that scythe around made it cut through men like paper, the blood splashing into the air like kudos for an artist. The blood would run down her hands and thighs, leaving crimson trails on her fair skin. The bright blonde hair would slowly turn brown under the drenching blood, sticking to her body and face, matting with a sanguine envelope. Her hair would turn into thin, wet strands, splashing blood all around as she twisted and turned. The up-turned breasts, swaying with her movements, felt like apples to the Castitas' hundreds of Adams. Her body, stunning, beautiful, barren, and smooth, would distract men for only a few seconds. Then, they'd realize, she just took Johnny's head off.

For the flow of battle to have been so even for the course of nearly two hours, there was a change in the air. This could not continue forever, and men felt fatigue. Caeca beasts do not. The fronts slowly moved, with small spikes of white coats breaking a few meters into the Caeca line, and then bubbles of Caeca burning through the line of Castitas. It looked like a sinusoidal equation, with dips and crests into each side, moving up and down like waves where one push would bring men deeper to the beasts, and the demons closer to the holy. As the line of contact broadened, splitting out with men spacing themselves, as well as the Caeca trying to flank the sides, each man found that he wasn't shoulder-to-shoulder with another man, but standing on his own. Squadrons tried sticking together, but were cut off by walls of bodies or beasts.

In this give-and-take line, the sun kept beating. The smell started to set in, making any man who fell to a knee or lost footing met with an acrid and over-powering muster hidden under their heels. They quickly found footing again, as if the smell was a precursor to their death and temptation to join in being part of that offal.

Eventually, some of the little pockets met, creating bigger gaps and the line of battle started to show its wear. More men were dying, more of the beasts were gaining ground, and the white coated carcasses were lost under damned feet. It wasn't long before Undecim had cut her way through enough men that it warranted the attention of the Erus of the Castitas. It also wasn't long before she cut through enough men that she was face-to-face to Trucido, having worked her way through as many as it took to square against him.

While Lucas was involved in dodging a large one, using another soldier as a partner to distract and sneak attacks, he was oblivious to the figure at his back. The humanoid figure lurched towards the other soldier, at which point Trucido leapt forward, digging his blade deep in its chest, only going in a few inches at first. Then, he gritted his teeth, found footing and pushed harder, slowly slicing through bones and other obstructions until his blade was clear through the beast. Its head turned as if to question why it no longer could breathe, not feeling the pain nor the realization it was dying, instead inquisitive at the sword buried deep in it before it fell back off the edge, dead and still confused. Trucido ripped the sword out as it fell, some of the blood lingering on his fingers, on top of his gloves that were wrapped into a standard set of Castitas gauntlets that matched the Castitas boots, equally covered in blood.

A scream from a lower class soldier came at the sight of Undecim, proclaiming her name to the ear of Trucido. That poor soul's voice was turned to a choking gurgle as he soon found the edge of Undecim's scythe buried in a downward angle through his clavicle, the tip resting somewhere in his intestines. The blade ripped out with a maliciously slight sound, as if a metallic whisper as it caressed the bones on its way out. Lucas watched the man fall to the ground, staring up, beore his body tumbled, mixing with the other dead. Trucido turned to see Undecim now, smirking slightly as she brought the weapon to rest by her side, the blood fresh and bright. Lucas slowly turned to face the Ascended unit, trying to hide his fear. If there was any fear in him, he tired his best not to show it. There were plenty of other beasts of the Caeca around, hissing in their delight of the battle and the sounds of meeting swords playing a percussion symphony for the two to stare. Trucido had known that when facing an Ascended, you could be assured your back was safe, and none would attack. But, it didn't help the fear of hearing the heavy footstep of one of those demons or feeling the heavy breath on his neck or the stink of their rotting flesh hanging from putrid bones.

"Will you provide fun, Lucas?" Undecim whispered as she approached, raising her scythe to let the blood drip off of its end. "Can you prove to me your faith, show me your God in your conviction? Can you kill me?" Trucido's eyes were locked on the dead body under him, the soul stolen in front of him, then up to the Ascended unit in front of him. He was breathing hard, due both to fatigue and fear. He brought his gloved knuckles to his face, wiping his brow. His short, brown hair was matting together into strands from the sweat, dripping off of his eyebrows down his face and pooling on the tip of his nose. A dry feeling was mounting in the back of his throat. Lucas did not respond, staring at Undecim. She smiled slightly, twisting her body with a desolate gale blowing by, her hair slightly displacing to show her breasts, splattered in blood.

Lucas took that as a moment to attack, or to reprimand himself for staring at a Caeca. He was only twenty, after all, and no amount of religion can stop a man from staring at a lady's goods. No matter what history you read this from, that will never change.

He began by jumping forward with an outstretched arm, his blade hoping to dig through the soft flesh of Undecim. While looking supple, her body was anything but feminine. Underneath that smooth skin, a strength took hold that was far from human, rivaled by her reflexes and deadly accuracy. The stab was deflected with the curve of her scythe, swinging into a parry. The horizontal slice was evaded by Lucas, barely. His free hand caught the tip of the weapon, cutting through his glove down to his knuckle. Drawing back and recomposing, holding his sword in a forward stance, Undecim sat back as well, smiling.

"Do you need me to cut your hand for you? Marius never let us draw his blood, not in his later years. He never would, and if we would ever get close, he would rather sacrifice his own sword upon his body than any of ours."

"I am not Marius Antea," Trucido seethed, looking at the blood dripping out of the hardened black glove, turning back to see Undecim's wicked smirk.

"Of that, Aequitas is well aware. You haven't the ability, the class, the conviction, or the truth. You don't have the faith to kill me."

"Faith? How dare you talk of faith in this blood field!"

"I never said faith in your false god…I merely said faith. Do you believe you can, do you believe yourself? Do you believe in your sword or the stars?"

"I believe in my good Lord who empowers me to rid this world of evil."

"Then why haven't you killed me? I must not be evil." Lucas eyes looked down to that man killed in place of him initially, then back to Undecim. He only sneered, then launched back into combat. His fury had taken over his battle senses, and he was swinging wildly. Both hands gripped to the sword, and he launched one after the other, being expertly blocked and deflected by his Ascended foe. The curve of the scythe let the blade glint off, making a sound like sharpening a blade. The momentum carried along its length, gritting each of the worn blades against each other's crags. Horizontal slash, vertical, heavy diagonal, a stab, a reeling horizontal cut following a spin, then a twist of the sword, bringing it into a swipe to the sky. All of them smashing into the hackneyed scythe's rusted edge, bounding off with that metallic sound all too familiar to anyone who has known what a battle sounds like.

He brought both hands to the weapon, then attempted to beat Undecim into submission, smashing a flurry of heavy vertical slashes. The weapon held firm, like a wall for his blade, each of the successively angry strokes only driving Aequitas a few steps back by his successive pounding. Stepping back, a heavy few breaths and sweat dripping his face and the sword hanging loosely in his grip, Undecim only looked at him, lowering her weapon from its defensive position.

"It's not characteristic for an Erus to get angry and strike in such anger. What would your god think?"

"He would grant me more strength to finish the job!"

"Then where is your strength?" Undecim wickedly laughed, grasping the weapon between white fingers and pink fingernails. She twirled the weapon to rest along her back, the tip of the scythe jutting across the front side of her body, from her knees to her hips. Her arm outstretched, and her fingers tempted Trucido closer. She was taunting him. "Come, boy, prove to my god that you are worthy of being an enemy, prove to Aequitas you deserve to lead these soldiers!"

Lucas grunted, then screamed, picking up a clod of dirt with his boots as he jumped forward, raising his weapon behind his head and coming down hard. But, he only hit the ground again, digging his weapon into the ground and a carcass, the hit vibrating into his arms. Undecim's celerity was unprecedented, and she was already to the side. For a brief moment, it could have been over, Trucido dead and that scythe cutting through every one of his innards. It was a fear he saw all in just one second, as if time stopped. That's a familiar feeling to any soldier.

Instead, he felt all of the air leave his lungs. A small fist dug into his gut like a piercing arrow, his back buckling over and knees falling from under him. The carcass of a Caeca that his sword had dug into found itself staring into the red face of a coughing Lucas Trucido, Erus of the Castitas. He tried quickly to pull his blade from the body, standing on unsure feet, coughing and trying to steady his view of the enemy. Undecim only smiled.

"Are you sure you're worthy of the title?"

Trucido's anger was mounting, and his swordsmanship was suffering. Another violent burst of his weapon, and it was knocked cleanly from his hands. Instead of a block or evasion, Undecim sliced in a perpendicular way to his, sending the blade reeling into the air and some yards away into a crowd and the bloody grass. Weaponless and teary eyed, Trucido looked at the Ascended enemy. He raised his fists between clinched coughs, trying to steady his body. Undecim's movements were fast and smooth, making it hard to anticipate or counter her dance.

Lucas Trucido must have been lucky, under the view of God or something. Undecim's smile turned to an embittered scream as she lashed out, finding her weapon only cutting into the already dead bodies underneath her. Lucas side-stepped nimbly, raising his body from the evasive tactic, then coming down hard with an outstretched fist that hoped to punch Undecim's face into the ground. The Ascended took the hit, the head snapping back for a moment, but hardly enough for the force of the hit or the pain in Lucas' hand. When Undecim's perfect face turned back, a small trickle of dark red blood, nearly purple, slowly dripped from the nose. It caught a stray strand of that white blonde hair, staining it instantly.

"So, you can fight, boy," Undecim said. The voice had lost its air of fun, its seduction, and now was stoic and straight. It was one of the most frightening things Trucido had heard since his childhood. What followed next was a bit unknown. A small battle waged between the two, caught in the eyes of onlookers and in the claustrophobic glances of battle-ridden soldiers. No one could watch the battle, due to their own engagements with other enemies. It was as if Lucas Trucido had a small score to settle with Undecim, both of them there to prove their worth as leaders of their respective armies. Undecim was as equally a new Ascended as Trucido was an Erus, considering Antea had recently slain Decim. But, where Trucido failed due to human fault, there was no morale or troop chemistry or tactics for Undecim to know, except that she was designed to kill amongst her disfigured brethren.

Somewhere, Trucido grabbed a sword from another fallen soldier, using it to block from the onslaught of Undecim. It was cold and blood covered from sitting on the ground. She was attacking fiercely and quickly, leaving no time for Trucido to respond or counter. Instead, his weary feet kept moving backwards, holding the weapon up with a prayer at each second it caught the enemies blade, and that blade did not catch his own flesh. His eyes moved quickly, unblinking, his breath was short and hard, his heartbeat sat in his ears. Any one wrong block, and he was dead. His reflexes weren't that good, either, which made it an unknown reason as to how he came out without more than the scratch on his hand.

His retreating defensive steps finally found him back-to-back with another force of Castitas soldiers. Upon their turning from their own enemies, they realized who it was that had just backed into them, and the sound of the meeting metals coming from none other than an Ascended.

"It's Erus Trucido!" one alighted. "Men, defend your commander!" The voice belonged to some brown-nosing First Class who obviously wished to have been known as saving an Erus. He was correct in his assumption. The men sprinted forward, encompassing the overwhelmed Trucido, who had now fallen backwards over a corpse, his blade held high in both hands, keeping his holy guard up. Undecim kept on swinging, one after the other, the blade in Lucas' hands rattling with each successive hit, screaming its metallic percussion. The men who ran up were noticed by Undecim immediately, and all of them dealt with in succession.

Their approaching battle cries warned her of them, and as they got close, they were murdered. The first tried to slash at Undecim, who ducked underneath, then brought her scythe across his ribs, letting the innards fall to the ground as he did. The second came in for a stab, which she let slide between her body and arm, bringing her body close to the soldier, then twisting quickly, breaking his elbow. In his painful scream, she brought the weapon cleanly across his throat. Another three jumped over the mounting bodies, letting Trucido scramble to his feet, only to watch them die as well. Three successive slices, one to the next, and three more bodies joined the dirt. Undecim's scythe was absolutely soaked in crimson.

"Go, young boy. You'll not win this fight, and you've got more to fight. Retreat your men, you'll only see more die," Undecim warned. Her voice was stoic still, not the jubilant child he had encountered earlier. Her face was aimed downward, but her piercing eyes kept a forward stare. The bleeding nose was dripping down her white chin, and the scythe came to rest underneath her, as if it had a mind of its own, twirling in her fingers. The sight of the two staring leaders was soon cut off, as more white coats ran to block off his view, and a surge of Caeca swallowed Undecim. The small gap produced was filled with both sides, all engaging each other.

"Get up, Lucas," a voice said behind him. Looking, he saw Armand Volens' hand outstretched, his black gauntlet equally as rough and cut from years of repair. Trucido quickly got up, grabbing another weapon amongst the bodies. His foot squished into what could only be described as some awful mix of man and beast. "This is turning ugly, my friend," Volens continued. The men in front of Trucido, all fighting valiantly against a new line of Caeca, were being quickly killed. Every few seconds, another fell, and their number was failing.

Then, it seemed as if Lucas had a moment of clairvoyance. They are very common to leaders, but it was something that Trucido was not yet used to. Being an Erus was not his forte, although he was finding out the intricacies with blood and sacrificed souls. The way the battle was looking, it was true. Undecim's words rang in his head. Go, young boy, you'll not win this fight, and you've got more to fight. Retreat your men, you'll only see more die. Perhaps she was right, but it was not something that any Erus would ever want to do.

The line was breaking all along the field. The small pockets that waved back and forth were becoming increasingly thin. A pocket was filled with Caeca, and they were creating breaks in the line, being able to attack the few pockets of Castitas from all sides. The line was turning into a crescent, the enemy flooding the sides, trampling over dead bodies and eliminating any soldier stupid enough to not have stuck to the side of his squadron.

Bloody screams continued their gaining virtuoso. Their permeating echo on the air were overwhelming Trucido. He tried to listen to something else, to the trampling feet of men running. Then he would only hear the dull thud of a body falling and gasping its last breath. He tried listening to the glint of sword off of other blade, but only heard the metal cutting into flesh with a subdued squish. The sound of this battle was turning too deadly. Men fell down dead quickly, and they knew it. Men no longer stood their line, they were turning their heads to see comrades dying, they were seeing their defenses and their morale dropping. Men were turning, running back a few steps to find another soldier left, and using him as a partner, each of them turning to see an overwhelming advance of the Caeca, stabbing with their claws through the dying outstretched hands of a friend, ended under foot.

A palpable fear of mortality crept into the souls of most of the men, except for Quint Darton. He knew this was getting ugly, but he was not afraid of the death at hand. The men around him were falling fast, each of them feeling the fatigue of a battle under a noon sun, or of simply being too inexperienced. They were not able to keep up, physically or mentally. One man crouched next to a long time friend to bless his soul's journey to God, only to be skewered on top of the body he prayed for, followed by the screaming eulogy of a proud Caeca beast.

Instead, he fought harder. One beast stepped forward, lifting its bulbous arm to swing down with a crude metallic weapon. Darton didn't let its charging motion stop him, and quickly leapt forward, slicing the raised arm from the shoulder. As the limb fell, he quickly changed his blad'es direction digging it through the exposed ribs. The humanoid beast fell, Darton's blade ripped out, then stabbing into a leaping, smaller type. It was trying to pounce on top of him, but instead found itself skewered with its own movement onto Darton's sword down to the hilt. With his free hand, he shoved the body off of his sword, and then quickly swung at another two beasts, cleaving their chests open.

The disgusting skin looked like it was rotting already. It was browned and blacked, peeled back to show the gray bones or beating innards. Small spurts of blood leaked on their knuckles where bones had grown through the epidermis, and equally random pockets of hair were soaked in blood with their raveling spines. The faces, with hanging skin and jutting teeth that cut through lip and jaw, would screech and howl. They were all just disgusting sinful creatures for most Castitas soldiers, seeing them as a manifestation of Hell's finest warriors.

Darton saw them only as the same things, over and over. He moved fast and viciously, not wasting a moment too much on one before he saw the opportunity to end another of their lives. He relished this, this ability to kill so fast, so efficiently. It was the only thing he had worth living for.

A seven-foot lumbering beast was swiping at the back of a small force of Castitas, knocking a man into the air with each large swing. Tey were all staring at his advance, backing out of his reach, but unable to counter. Darton saw this, and ran up behind, leaping on its back with his sword outstretched. The blade protruded from the abdomen on the front side, spraying the frightened bunch with its juices. It fell forward, Darton pulling his weapon from its back, a small strand of skin on the bloody chunks of his battered sword.

They were all green rookies, frightened and unable to fight, speechless at the monster fell. Darton couldn't muster a word, instead just looking behind him to more, leaving them to their speechless indignation. Four of the fast types were running together, swiping and biting at any Castitas who had their backs turned, all of them moving towards Darton. He sprinted towards them with suicidal glee. He slid down into the dirt as one leapt for him, holding his sword high and slicing into the chest of it. It fell dead in a heap, grabbing dirt with its descent. The other three found quickly that their opponent was as brutal and quick as they were. One swipe was blocked, and countered with a free hand that punched into the soft bone in its face. The jaw was relocated to somewhere in the back of its throat, and it choked on its own bloody jaw fragments lodged in its esophagus. The other two were sliced at with expert speed, and dropped as fast. This didn't stop another fast one from getting through, leaping over Darton and into that small crowd of rookies. They were all dead within a moment as its razor-sharp claws took limbs off and severed soul from body.

Quint could only growl in anger. It didn't matter how many he killed or how fast he did or how many dumb rookies he saved. They didn't defend themselves. He found that the white coats around him were all falling, staining red as they kicked up the puddles with their boots. In the clearing, another wave of Caeca were approaching, and he found himself alone. The few Castitas left fighting their own beasts would soon be dead as well. This was not the time to stand and fight.

"Get the fuck back to the base!" Darton screamed, slicing at a close beast, then turning and running.

Somewhere across the battlefield, his words carried like electricity between all men, repeating them and following. Soon, they even reached Volens and Trucido, looking over that battlefield. Armand's sincere look and nod to Trucido affirmed it all, and Lucas had to make another of his errors in commanding.

"Retreat to the base, everyone! Erus Trucido is calling for a full retreat! Get back to the hangar immediately! Disengage and retreat by squadron!" His words were drowned out after he said "retreat." The word carried like a poison, and it was screamed by any able bodied man. The few left alive on the ground tried crawling back, or screamed for help from their fleeing brothers. They were soon filled with dirt as the claws of their enemy pierced them through, and dragged the weeds into them as they loped further ahead.

All of the Castitas were now turning and running off of the field, back into the nearly hidden cargo doors of the M.T. hangar in the side of the eastern hill of the Parisian Headquarters. The coat tails of their white trench coats caught the dirt and blood kicked up into them as they fled. Undecim's piercing cry could be heard over the winds, between heavy breaths and thundering heartbeats, and made the men run faster. The Caeca were chasing, with large leaps and behemoth steps, smashing worn weapons and bodies into the weeds and grass. The noon sun watched apathetically.