A Little Out of Order

I finally felt a bit of a creative spark today. Lately I’ve been feeling unmotivated and lethargic, though I can’t imagine why. Our regular supervisor, F, is finally back from leave and things are slowly getting back to normal. But it seems as though my anxiety has only worsened. Going into my online classroom to complete assessments gives me the sweats. Opening up my book to edit it yet again makes my stomach hurt.

Nothing has really changed, besides the supervisors that is. I’m going to the gym every morning. I’m even running, which is supposed to help your brain function. I’m eating as healthily as I can with the limited choices at the DFAC. And I have friends here, good friends that I can talk to and who I enjoy being around. But I’m still just so unmotivated to do anything. Nothing is enjoyable to me lately.

I can only hope that this is just another cycle. And maybe it’s finally coming to a close. I wrote a semi-new part in my book today and I finished Fulgrim, which, if anyone is familiar with the Horus Heresy series, is an amazing book. Reading the work of an amazing writer like Graham McNeil is probably what finally gave me this little bit of energy to write something new. It takes place after the first battle and after a “big reveal” type event.

I don’t really have anyone to show this to, so I’ll post it here. That’s what blogs are for, right? To show absolute strangers the work you’re most insecure about? Some of this part was already here, but some is a new bit of lore I decided would work well in my world. I’ll probably hate it in a bit once I read over it obsessively. But for now I think I’m just going to relax and enjoy the fact that I finally felt the urge to create.

“There has to be something more you can do,” Castillo cried with a pleading gesture at Mitera Tallah. “It’s been almost three days!”

Mitera Tallah shrank inward on herself, gathering her shrunken limbs close to her body and shaking her head sadly. Lyudmila laid a leanly muscled arm over the elderly woman’s shoulders and pulled her in for a comforting hug. Castillo felt his rage drain out of him at the sight. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I just-“

“I understand, Sergeant,” Mitera Tallah said through a veil of tears. “You lash out in anger and desperation. I wish I could help, I truly do. But at this point, I do not believe there is anything that can be done.

Castillo scrubbed his hands over his face before running them through his closely cropped black hair. He, Lyudmila and Mitera Tallah had held constant vigil over the lieutenant, hoping she would wake up. Lyudmila had pulled book after book out of the vast library in the fortress, searching for some explanation of what had happened. The closest they had come was that Ripley was an empath, but instead of using her silence to sense emotions, she used her voice to push emotions out as a weapon.

Castillo found this difficult to believe. How could the lieutenant be an empath when they came from a world with no magic? Mitera Tallah had clucked over this, saying that their world merely blocked magic. She claimed she wouldn’t be surprised if more of his soldiers started showing signs of mage abilities now that they were in a world of unfettered magic.

The biggest concern was whether Ripley was safe inside her own mind or whether she had somehow been trapped in the Immaterium, separated from her body. Mitera Tallah believed Ripley was merely in a coma but Flora harbored suspicions that Ripley had somehow been transported onto a different plane of existence.

Every day had worn on Castillo. Each day he sat at his comrade’s side, his hands on hers, praying for her to wake up. But Mitera Tallah was right. There was little they could do beyond waiting and ensuring that Ripley was kept safe during her interminable coma. Flora had deeply apologized to Castillo on the dawn of the second day. “There is nothing I can do,” she had told him quietly. Her regret had broken through her cold facade and she had gazed at him with pity and sorrow. “My mages have yet to recover. Many lay in coma’s while others have been laid to rest. I am so sorry, Odo.”

Castillo had checked in with his platoon periodically. The squad leaders had been left with strict instruction to keep a close eye on their soldiers to watch for signs of depression. Gammon had told a truly harrowing tale of being almost murdered by gibbering horrors as Johnson nodded vigorously along. Hagar’s eyes still glinted with anger when she spoke of the desecrated and defiled bodies clumped together in what could only have been some sort of disgusting ritualistic form of devil worship.

The rest of the platoon shuddered with revulsion at the graphic descriptions, but Castillo could tell they were more hopeful now that they knew that their weapons could kill the creatures. Now if only the lieutenant would wake up. With her awake once more, they could formulate a plan to wipe Ikuutayuq out once and for all.

Now that they had proof, solid proof that the soldiers’ weapons would work they would soon be going to war. All around them the keep readied in preparation for the army to march. Food was gathered and loaded onto wagons. Weapons were enchanted and sharpened. Armor was cleaned and oiled. Mitera Tallah had ordered her Sisters to take stock of their meager supplies. The majority of their potions and bandages would soon be on the road with the knights, leaving the Asclepieion with barely enough medicin to cure a headache or the common cold.

One second day as he stood in the Asclepieion overseeing the knights as they took stock of their supplies, Castillo had noticed a small room at the back of the Asclepieion. A steady stream of people moved in and out of the room, entering with their hands full and exiting with them empty. Their faces were downcast and morose and streaked with tears.

“Mitera,” Castillo had called to Mitera Tallah. The elderly woman turned and limped over to him, her cane tapping loudly on the marble floor. He gestured into the room. “What are they doing?”

Mitera Tallah’s lips had thinned and her rheumy eyes had filled with sudden tears. Rather than answering she had taken his elbow and led him into the room. They had maneuvered past the stream of mourners to take a place just within the doors. Murmurs filled the room, their cadence almost musical in nature. The room was bright, but not unpleasantly so. The light was golden and ethereal, as though the very dust motes that floated through the air were beings of pure light.

Castillo let out a breath. Without Mitera Tallah saying a word, he instantly knew what this room was for. “It’s a memorial,” he whispered, his voice barely audible. Mitera Tallah nodded.

Plants grew along the far wall, stretching their vines up to the roof as tendrils held them steadily in place against the stone. Within the plants were names. Hundreds of names. They shifted and swirled with gleaming, glittering gold letters, moving in an intricate dance even as Castillo watched. At the top of each stalk bloomed a glorious flower, the intensity of which Castillo had never seen before.

The petals opened wide, each one a velvety masterpiece wrought in deep purple majesty. Veins of gold ran beneath their purple flesh and pulsed in time with the names as they twirled slowly along the vines. A delicate mist of gold rose from them to float through the air, creating a pleasing musk that eased the knot in Castillo’s chest. At the base of each vine were smaller flowers, these ones miniature versions of the ones at the top. The flowers were interspersed with razor sharp thorns that were decorated by specks of blood.

Castillo watched in fascination as a lithe elf with tightly curled blonde hair knelt by these smaller flowers. She laid a battered picture on top of other offerings with slow and reverent motions. She lovingly ran her hand over the picture and Castillo could see that it was what remained of a painting. The likeness of two small girls had been rendered on the canvas with shocking skill. One was clearly the elf while the other shared a set of features so similar that she could have been no one but the elf’s sister.

The elf pricked her finger on one of the thorn and winced as blood welled up to the cut in her skin. She held the bloodied finger out to the flowers before speaking quietly. “Cyrene Tal,” the elf whispered, aiming her words toward the tiny flowers at the base of the vine. Three of them turned toward her at the sound of her voice and their petals opened even further.

One reached out to the elf, this one the largest of the three. She placed her injured finger at the center of the flower and its petals closed around her appendage gently. When they opened once more, her wound had been closed and the blood that stained the flower’s petals slowly absorbed into its flesh.

“Cyrene Tal,” the elf whispered once more. “My sister. My friend. May she rest peacefully in the Beyond.”

The flowers bowed, their actions almost sentient as they showed respect toward the fallen woman. The vines at the base of the wall began to grow and stretch until they had covered the painting with their tendrils. Castillo’s eyes widened as he realized that every offering laid at the foot of this memorial had been so covered. All the treasured keepsakes of the dead were lovingly blanketed by the thin vines as though they were protecting them all.

As the vines covered the picture, traceries of gold began to flow up their stalks. Tears poured down the elf’s face as the gold began to coalesce into a name: Cyrene Tal. Cyrene Tal’s memorial began its slow dance up the winding stalks of the vines until it eventually blended with the rest of the remembered dead.

“This is how we remember our dead,” Mitera Tallah told him with a nod toward a mage who stood in the corner of the room. Castillo’s eyes widened as he turned, only now realizing the mage’s presence.

The tall, statuesque woman was kept decent only by a few strategically placed scraps of cloth. The entirety of her exposed flesh was slathered with what seemed to be liquid gold. Runes and markings had been painted on her forehead, lips, hands, chest, and feet in dark purple paint. The braids of her ebony hair had been twisted into a spiral pattern that left her face clear of obstruction.

The mage’s eyes were closed and her body swayed as her gold painted hands and mouth moved constantly. Castillo watched her private dance for a moment, entranced by the sheer beauty of her being. Magic flowed through her and from her in a steady flow, reaching out to suffuse the room with a calming sense of wellbeing.

The words of her song reached Castillo and he realized this had been the murmurs he had heard when they had first entered the room. The cadence was lilting and beguiling and he focused as he struggled to hear what it was she sang. The verses flowed past him until at last he heard something familiar.

“Cyrene Tal,” the mage sang, her head back and her eyes closed. Her face was serene and beauteous, as though whatever she saw behind her eyelids was more glorious than anything she could every see in the mortal world. “Sister. Friend.”

The dead. She sang of and for the dead. Cyrene Tal was the newest in her rolls of the remembered dead and the Death Singer’s song began anew as she began at the beginning. Each name in the vines found a place in her song, creating a melancholy tune full of sweet love and bitter loss.

“It’s beautiful,” Castillo whispered through a voice gone tight with emotion. The elf bowed her head before standing and moving aside so another could take her place at the foot of the memorial.

“The Death Singer will remain here until all the dead have been immortalized through her spell. She will only stop once this tragedy has ended,” Mitera Tallah told him quietly. “Once her spell is complete, this room will be protected by a barrier through which only those with loved ones memorialized within will be able to pass.” The Mitera sighed and graced Castillo with a weary smile. “It is one of the few spells that yet linger in our hallowed halls that allow for such power.”

“And the blood?” Castillo asked.

“Necessary for the spell,” Mitera Tallah replied curtly. She nodded to him and led him back out of the room. Castillo had broken off with her in the hallway and wandered toward the training field, the scent of the memorial flowers heavy in his nose.

The knights had returned to their training under the tutelage of Hedril and Peri. Maddox had hovered nearby Ripley’s room, waiting, although whether his concern was for his war table or for Ripley’s health, Castillo couldn’t say. The man was seemed to be an enigma to most, but Castillo read him easily.

Maddox seemed to long for companionship, yet he shunned the company of the other knights. Occasionally Castillo had caught the dark glances that were thrown Maddox’s way and he wondered at them. From everything Castillo had seen Maddox was an exemplary knight and a superb military commander. So why did his own knights seem almost afraid of him at times?

The only ones who didn’t slink around Maddox as though he might strike them down at any moment were Peri, Hedril, and Pantea. They treated him as a friend, but Castillo could tell that Maddox was unaware of just how loyal they were. He was cautious around them, as though he believed they would turn on them at any moment.

The only time Castillo had seen the hulking commander’s aloof demeanor slip had been when Ripley had given him a dressing down in the war room. The look on Maddox’s face would have been comical had it not been filled with a longing so intense that it had hurt Castillo’s heart. Not a longing of a sexual nature, but one that craved the friendship others.

That look conveyed more than surprise at how she had treated him. It had screamed for normalcy, for someone to treat him like one who belonged here rather than one who had been foisted upon them through means outside of his control. It had cried out for someone to look upon him without the knowledge of whatever had tainted him in the eyes of his own knights.

Castillo had seen soldiers on the outside of the bonds of camaraderie for which the military was so well known. These soldiers had that same hungry, desperate look about them has they had struggled to fit in until they were rebuffed enough as to be defeated. Ripley had even had that look on her face while she had been on restricted duty for that past year. Castillo made a mental note to treat Maddox he would treat any other soldier: with a healthy dose of teasing jibes mixed with abrasive kindness. But that could wait until Ripley woke up. Castillo sighed and looked down at her still features, willing her to wake up.

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