It was how you could still see the whites of their eyes in the moonlight that struck Var'aan as particularly interesting.

For seven hours his brigade lay in the gloomy jungle moisture, unmoving in the mud even as lesser creatures crawled around them, paying no attention. But Var'aan knew better than to say 'motionless'. He saw the long, mud-stained tendril of his hair sway gently from blood pulsing at his scalp, felt his chest rise and fall against the sodden mire below him. All that mattered was that the brigade was invisible against the murky backdrop of tropical foliage and deep blue shadows.

What he was relying on now was fear. Archid territory was infamously haunted to outsiders, and aristocracy of the Avai and the Non disappeared when taking a short cut through the crest in the border. But issues now were no longer so domestic. Var'aan didn't care to recognize the reasons for the war; it was something far too politically dry for him to pay it any mind. But now there was a reason to collect no prisoners of the Nons who had plagued and pushed at the border for hundreds of generations.

He glanced over to Nykita, whose dagger was pushed, blade down, into the mud. She had rested her ear on the pommel, her eyes closed until she felt weight of his eyes.

"South west. We should hear them imminently." Her lips shaped the words, but without a sound. She knew better.

He made no reply, crouching deeper in the sludge, which had enveloped him in black tar. The bones in his hair made the smallest chime before the silence stretched out long before them.

It felt too long before Var'aan heard footfall, heavy with armour plating and saw the glimmer of gold among the archaic trunks of overgrowth, sown by nature when the Archid were still godless and rose from this very fen.

He watched the mud-slick boots pass not six inches from him, and his yellow eyes rose upwards to hungrily take in the golden helmet and terrified black eyes.

It took all of Var'aan's willpower to not attack now. He paused a moment longer, finally catching a glimpse of white among the black of his iris. Yes.

He let out a deafening roar, propelling forward into the throng of gilded military men while the rest of the berserkers followed.


"You would definitely not believe me if I told you."

"Humour me."

Lekter's patience with Xanatos was wearing thin in the early evening, so he had mostly taken to ignoring the boy, instead polishing the blood off of his mace with loving strokes. He would have hit the scholar with it already, but knowing him, he would find a way around a broken jaw to continue talking.

"The Golden Hand got massacred in the Black Fens. Five hundred of the elite were killed."

That piqued Lekter's interest immediately, he felt himself smile, "No shit, really?"

"I told you it would happen."

"You did."

"I won."

"Fuck you."

"But I did win." The blond's eyes were enormous. This was a rarity. But clearly Lekter had given the Non's far too much credit, and the primal Archid, not enough.

He sighed, pulling out his dagger and slicing a line into the plaster of the wall, where a tally was being kept. To the left, twenty three slices had been scarred into the wall. Now, to the right—one.

"There." Lekter moved his feet from the table to the wooden floor. The spurs on the heels of his boots whirred with the movement, "About bloody time, too." He went back to polishing the black metal of his mace, and Xanatos snorted.

"You anal-retentive bastard; it was clean an hour ago."

Lekter's face was close to the starred head as he worked the suede up the mirrored points, "A Non better see their face in it before their head caves in, got it? It's hard work getting it that burnished."

Xanatos looked mildly horrified, but Lekter immediately chalked it up to him being a scholar, "Remind me why I'm your friend, Lekrevynsht."

Xanatos rarely used Lekter's full name, and he flinched at the title, "Because I'm the only one who was able to stand you, and continues to put up with you."

"Valid. But hurtful. Tsk."

Lekter didn't care. He continued to shine the sadistic weapon with affectionate care. He stiffened when he heard the desperate footfall of someone running up the stairs, and rose to his feet to place his hand on his holstered rifle as the door swung open.

A frail-looking messenger stumbled inside and collapsed on the ground, extracting a thick envelope from his satchel with clumsy, shaking fingers. His breathing was so ragged that it would have been excruciating, and Lekter grabbed the message from him before it had been directed his way. He faced the fire as he opened it, vaguely hearing Xanatos scuttle to help the boy.

"Hm." He made a thoughtful noise as he started to read it over, before his eyes widened in surprise and he started to laugh, "How interesting."

He turned back to Xanatos, who was kneeling next to the now unmoving messenger, trying desperate to revive him.

"Don't bother. He's dead. You won't guess who else is." He waved the parchment around mildly.

The blond looked up at him in shock, which was as such that it took several tries from him to speak. He would never get used to Lekter's nonchalant manner over death.


"The emperor."

"…That makes High Chancellor Vasel emperor then."

"Mm, it would. Were he not assassinated along with Oryane."

Xanatos' mouth moved, but no sound came out. He still clutched at the dead messenger's cooling hand.

"Then… then…"

Lekter smirked, taking a deep bow to the crouching teenager, "Long live Emperor Xanatos."

The scholar was agape, ashen and clearly terrified, "…You're not serious!"

But Lekter didn't notice, too busy laughing away at the mere cheek of it, "I don't know about you, but it seems to me like someone has a fucking brilliant sense of humour."