The Twentieth Chapter
I understand now that all of my motivations are inherently selfish. Every good deed I have ever done has been to serve a purpose that was secretly my own. By choosing who I help, I help myself. – Deicide.
After training alongside Deicide’s Risk Eaters and Deathless soldiers, the conversion to a Nazareth combatant had been fairly easy to Fawn, save for the strange armor they used. She still was not convinced this Floating Armor could prevent damage from the Spine Blade. She had seen her brother use the blade to slice through pillars of steel. It was impossibly sharp and seemed to be able to divide anything its edge was laid across. The Nazareth could not possibly hold enough Negation shells to stop the entire Deathless force, yet Ecocide was confident that Deicide would concede if he lost enough personnel. Fawn was not so sure; both of the nobles seemed to be very spiteful and vindictive in their campaigns, with bounties being levied against popular officers from both sides. She understood the culture of eaters having very much to do with pride and respect. Neither Deicide nor Ecocide seemed to have any for the other, which meant their grievances for one another started deep within, impossible to separate their personal issues from the ships they commanded.
Presently, Fawn was sitting on the edge of the training plateau, tearing herself away from her form fitting gear. She seemed to be ignoring the farewells of her colleagues as they passed. She had no hate for any of her teammates, but she knew the bonds she had created with her fire team, would be much stronger than the loose relations she shared with these random people. The fighting classes were the darlings of the Nazareth, brash, arrogant, spoiled; they trotted around the ship like pedigreed Pomeranians. Only Ecocide and her sisters seemed to share rough common traits which she believed made her not only a survivor, but a warrior. The women had a work ethic that dove deep into the waters of obsessive. Their bodies were amazingly sculpted from their training, she could imagine them giving Deicide hell during their sparring matches long ago, but still, the eater had already had statues built for these women in his lavish mausoleum, and Fawn wondered what weakness he saw in the Lionesses, that she could not.
Just then, Ecocide dropped down beside her, swinging her long beige legs, stretching her arms as far as they would go. She then put her arm around Fawn and gave her a shake. Ecocide was always friendly, if a little pushy and the woman seemed determined to make friends with Fawn. She liked her, but she had met similar personalities in the army and avoided getting too close. Fawn believed little of the rumors, but any woman that could start a coup out of her personal interest was bound to be dangerous.
“I’m glad you’re one of us,” Ecocide said. “What’s wrong?” she said, after she heard Fawn release a sigh.
“He’s already built our graves,” Fawn said.
Ecocide blew a sharp breath between her teeth. “I know,” she said.
“You got some information I don’t?” Fawn said.
“Immortals love mementos; we get so old we forget most of the people we’ve met. How they smelled, the way they made us feel. That’s why I gave Ant that scar across his face,” Ecocide said, dragging her fingers across her own face.
“So he’d always remember you?” Fawn said.
“No, so everyone else would,” Ecocide said.
Ecocide smiled, revealing her edged teeth and then cocked her head to the side; her curly hair spilled over onto her other shoulder. Fawn was puzzled by the woman’s statement, but quickly remembered the eaters’ bizarre culture. The soldiers who were only eaters in name did little to participate, but she had heard that those females that possessed the true essence would frequently bite and mark their lovers, claiming them. None of these scars were permanent, but what Ecocide had done was more of a jab at Nott than revenge against Deicide, who already had a face full of scars, and shrugged at any new blemishes, it was never his job to be pretty, and who would throw him away if he no longer was?
“Seems like you’re not worried about him,” Fawn said.
“He doesn’t know anything that we don’t,” Ecocide said.
“I’ve heard you say that before, but somehow I can’t believe it’s true,” Fawn said.
“We utilize the technology he refuses to use,” Ecocide said. “And somehow he thinks this makes him more moral.”
“What about that thing that protects him though, the ‘Vestige’,” Fawn said.
“The Abyss,” Ecocide said.
“Yeah, what is it?” Fawn said.
“Imagine one day you fell down and cracked your skull, now picture all of your emotions and feelings spilled out into a puddle where everybody could see,” Ecocide said.
Fawn wanted to believe what the woman had said, but the Abyss seemed to catch the things that Deicide failed to see on his own. Fear and anxiety seemed to be common drugs that she enjoyed, but when someone stared her down, never looking away from her mustard yellow eyes, she seemed intrigued, as someone who had never laid their gaze upon their own reflection.
“Do we have something to counteract it?” Fawn said.
“We have wave emitters, but they only work when you’re not in Deicide’s field of view. The Abyss is blind when you transmit. She has to share his eyes,” Ecocide said.
“Will it save my ass?” Fawn said.
“It’ll make her less accurate, it’s up to you to get out of the way,” Ecocide said.
Fawn nodded and then leapt from the platform. As she entered the main hall leading out into the plaza, Fawn was greeted by faces that were still quite unfamiliar. Her role in the Nazareth’s affairs had quickly become vital. Fawn had even been placed in charge of a fighting division of her own. Though she felt she was undeserving, she was asked to sit on the military council with her Aunt Cari. She came to a stop in front of a large digital billboard with her image stretched across it. She looked only vaguely familiar to herself. They had softened her features, edited out the nicks and freckles on her face and all of her tattoos; her arms were smooth and silky, missing was the muscle she had put so much time and effort in attaining.
“I’ve seen worse,” Secant said as he put his arms around Fawn’s waist.
“Does everything have to be sold?” Fawn said.
“The people have to know who their fighting for, you know? There’s some sad fuck turning a wrench in a hot ass Auxiliary space, his life sucks, he needs a symbol,” Secant said.
“Why’s it have to be me?” Fawn said.
Secant shrugged. “You’re real,” Secant said.
Fawn pointed to the billboard. “Nothing about that is real,” Fawn said.
“That’s not what I meant. You don’t have that sense of entitlement that many on active duty have,” Secant said. Fawn turned around to face him.
“Oh, I think I’m entitled,” Fawn said, kissing him.
“You’re all sweaty,” Secant said, pulling back slightly.
“C’mon, let’s go to lunch,” Fawn said.
The couple found Lechwe and Flechette at their favorite spot to eat. The women’s table was crowded with food. Sandwiches and soups on festive colored trays and bowls were orbited by appetizers and drinks. Fawn stopped at the table to watch the women gorge themselves. She folded her arms and shook her head.
“You two fucking disgust me,” Fawn said.
Lechwe began to speak with a mouthful of food. “Whatever. Sit your asses down,” Lechwe said.
A waiter appeared from nowhere. “Menus?” he said.
“No thanks. We’ll just get something from the buffet,” Fawn said, gesturing to the table of entrees. She scooted into the booth and grabbed a grill cheese for herself.
“Ladies,” Secant said, unbuttoning his suit before sliding in.
“You all might want to take it easy,” Fawn said, remembering that the Nazareth did not have the immense resources that the Aeolipile did.
“Please. We’re out there risking our necks. Besides, they brought this stuff to us,” Lechwe said.
“We have little time to spend the money we earn. And what would we buy if we did?” Flechette said.
“Wish we could buy more time,” Lechwe said.