XI. Uncertainty

Lucem never minded the uncertainties. Most saw them as the gaps from perfection, hindrances that delay one’s plans, but he begged to differ.
Uncertainties were merely the air which one breathed, the ground which one walkd; should it be reeked of blood or perfume or gore or honey, or should it be paved with carcasses or gold or burnt ciders of civilization or marble, their existence was a constant with a factor of hope.
Such was the heart he held as he watched each of his messengers stumbled into his tent in shame and with a negative. “Do not lose heart,” He repeated himself as he lifted the men fallen in dejection from the ground, “Do not lose heart.”
The uncertainty towards his older brother’s intentions that he left the capital with was wore away with the arrival of each denied request for help. How could an emperor expect anything but a massacre when he threw a mere troop of five thousand against an enemy nearly twenty times as numerous? Lucem really based his judgment of Amzra thinking in terms of the empire’s entire forces, and the fact that Luctus was not deaf or an idiot bared his ulterior motive: a massacre was truly his imperial brother’s intention, and Lucem could only sigh at the price being set at five thousand lives.
He left the commander’s tent then to inspect his fatigued men in the cover of night, many of them at their limits, stretched in their own tents with their swords and wills dulled by the indifference of the empire that they were to protect. But, he thanked God at this, the protective spell he casted upon the five thousand was still an effective shield in ensuring a mere casualty of less than a hundred over the year. Yes, the strain upon him and the ten other casters — thus why one of the casualty was a castor — were almost unbearable, but Lucem reminded himself that these men suffered the indifference in his name.
Then a bird that Lucem remembered by name swooped down into his desperate inspection with a letter, “Zeph,” for that was his beloved’s winged friend, “what does Morgain have to say this time…” He unraveled the paper while the bird rested casually on his shoulder as though to read as well.
Dearest,
Lucius has been killed in a horrible accident, so the reinforcements would be delayed. Please, follow my advice and just retreat with your men: there is nothing worth protecting in this empire except of yourself.
Love until eternity,
M.
The hurried script nearly distracted the pain that was his younger brother and his hopeful uncertainties’ inexplicable demise. The additional weight of the bird upon his shoulder crushed him, knocked the breath out of him as he fought the urge to even weep silently. Instead, he occupied himself with concerns for the writer’s well-being as he felt himself slowly sinking into the ground where he saw himself swallowed before sunrise.
*******
Morning struck Lucem with a blow of cold as he dreamt of falling, awakening to new pains as he, too, was bled dry from exerting himself over the ambitious spell.
Still, fatigue retreated in the face of the relentless ranks of the Amzra army, whose numbers and boisterous spirits became more and more contrasting to their enemy’s desperate situation.
“Do not lose heart,” he muttered to himself as the battle unfolded. “Do not lose heart.”
Without further hesitation, Lucem dove into action: metal against metal, metal against flesh, all didn’t really register as a difference under the screen of crimson. As he drew out his sword from the body of a soldier, the boyish face that struck the blood-blackened ground morphed into one meant for happier memories. He brushed the thought off along with the thrust of an offensive spear, but the screams of his enemies only reminded him of a more feminine cry. Were his hallucinations messages or simply his fading conscious?

“Commander, another army of roughly twenty thousands approaches from the eastern mountains!” A colonel rushed in to report, his bloodied face covered in horror. “The banners are that of the Kingdom of Sardis.”

Must I die today? Lucem gulped down curses as he excused the colonel, planning a secure retreat in the face of enemy reinforcements. It made sense that the Kingdom of Amzra should be able to tempt Sardis into an alliance with their near victory against the empire. With a trembling wave of his hand, he extended the flight of the rain of flaming arrows of the Sardis greeting so most would fall among the Amzras. The constant throbbing in his chest increased tenfold, knocking the air out of him as he attempted to parry another sword.

His foe was excited by his clear suffering, daring another swing while Lucem used the brute’s arrogance to evade and slice his neck. Before the limp body could even hit the ground, Lucem doubled over, leaning upon his grounded sword for support. His vision swerved, cold sweat lined his brows while his entire body burnt with a roaring ache until he could only breath through shuddered gasps. Immediately before him was a corpse of an officer he might have felled, whose mask of serenity in death moved to call out.

Brother….brother….

No, Lucius’s blood should not be on his hands…but he was absent to prevent the boy’s “accident,” so no denial could wash his hands clean. He tried to scramble back to his feet, but his strength abandoned him at the most opportune time.

“Commander!”

Ah, his men. A grip pulled him onto his feet, swinging his arms over shoulders and carrying him to safety. Then, a loud crash sounded behind them. Lucem had just enough time to note the flash of a blade and turn around in a failed attempt to block before it tore a gash across his shoulder to abdomen.

“Ugh…” He bit his lips and managed to struggle out of the arms of his comrades, studying the glaive-wielding horseman whose presence only magnified in his doubling vision.

“Lucem Son of Lychnus, I have orders from the King Sabrias of Amzra to ensure your surrender,” the booming voice emphasized the seriousness of his statement with a point of his glaive towards the imperial commander that he addressed.

Lucem’s two men made moves to protect their wounded leader, but he gestured them to back down, “What is your name?” He knew not why he cared for honor as he beheld the world dwindle with the gradual oozing of blood.

The horseman spat, “A dead man like you would not need to know.”

Lucem scoffed, feeling his numbed fingers about the hilt of his blade, “Pity. This dead man would have to spend so much time finding your name to haunt you later.”

At that, the man raised his weapon and galloped towards his opponent, who adopted a casual stance and a calm smile that seemed almost delirious in his disadvantage. The powerful, downward stroke only split air as the commander evaded the blow, seizing the moment and the man’s forward momentum as he returned the gash across the neck of the man’s stead.

The glaive wielder was skilled enough on horseback to not be thrown off, but the poor animal brought down its rider after Lucem severed the tendons of its hind legs while it reared. Enraged, the Amzran threw yet another crushing blow against Lucem, who just had enough time to deflect the full weight of the hit with his blade. Then, desperate to break their standoff, Lucem’s adversary noted the two imperial soldiers now struggling to keep the sea of opponents rising to crush them with their occupied commander. Knowing the protective nature and the limits of the imperial commander, the Amzran drew tongues of flames from the remnants of the Sardis arrows and flung them at the soldiers.

Lucem summoned the last energy he did not know himself to be in possession of to return the fire to its castor, though the Amzran managed to part the burning cloud with the sheer power of his glaive. Seized with a fit of coughing that drew blood by the mouthfuls, Lucem dropped to his knees and watched the slow approach of the Amzran.

“Give in,” The multitude of corpses chimed in a single voice. “Join me.”

The soft whispers of demise seduced with its sweet breath of remembrances, but Lucem knew he did not have the right to enjoy death just yet. As the Amzran was just five steps away, Lucem wounded his grip about his blade again, surprising his relaxed opponent as he shoved himself away from the earth muddied with blood and gave a wide upward cut immediately followed in the same swift motion a downward strike to decapitate. At last, the Amzran fell.

Lucem did not even have time to exhale before, he too, crumbled into the tar of earth and gore and became numb even to the anguish calls of his comrades.

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