Author Topic: Alloyed Blood  (Read 1823 times)

Offline Inquisitor Sargoth

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Alloyed Blood
« on: August 25, 2010, 10:12:53 PM »
Nine days after infection.

The shrine was empty in the dim, predawn light and Jacques staggered in front of it, hushed prayers spilling from his lips. Back in the Schola the words had meant something, but after years of fighting back the filth at the Cadian gate, they had long lost their savour.  

It wasn’t that he had ever stopped believing, exactly, but the prayers had become routine, just words he paid no thought to. The Emperor was a distant figure, now, not the loving father he had envisaged as an orphan.

Now he believed. Now he believed harder than ever before. He prayed for forgiveness and protection, tears spilling down his grease-stained face.

A word caught in his throat and stayed there. He felt... pressure.

Jacques began to cough, painfully and violently. Blood speckled his hand, and instead of gasping for air he found he could not breathe.

He dry-heaved. Something... something was forcing its way up his throat and choking him.

Gagging silently, he pulled at his collar with one hand, the other pressing against his neck, trying to feel whatever it was that was creeping inexorably upwards.

He felt the pressure build, felt the object sliding painfully through his gullet before it shot upwards, bursting out of his mouth like a piston.

Spitting blood and teeth, Jacques took two shuddering, painful breaths, running his tongue over the object. It was hard. Cold. Unyielding.

He raised his shaking hand to his mouth, peeling back his lips, probing at it with his fingers.

A gun-barrel.

He began to scream. At first his screams were muffled, but then it took his voice and his cries turned into gunfire.  

***

Three days after infection.

Usually, Jacques took pride in getting up early, a relic from earlier days when he made a point of being awake, shaven and in uniform before the officers. Though he had long-since abandoned this conceit, the habit had never left him.

Not today. Today, he lay, groaning softly. At first he suspected a hangover, but he had hardly drunk enough for that. There was a throbbing pain in his head and eye and a foul, chemical taste in his mouth.

Mahla stirred next to him and Jacques turned to look at her. She looked almost cat-like, with her hair swept behind her high forehead save for a rogue lock that tumbled over her face and onto the pillow.

“Good morning,” she said, smiling faintly, eyes still closed.  

Jacques murmured a response and she opened her eyes, slowly raising herself onto an arm and placing the other on his shoulder.

“Still tired?”

Mahla was a comfort-girl. Officially, the practise was discouraged, but generals knew the value of morale and even the most pious of them would turn a blind eye to the practise. More pragmatic warmasters had been known to actively recruit, or even press-gang, comfort-women.

Once Jacques had been appalled by the brothel-tents that sprouted around Guard encampments, but times had changed.

“Headache.”

She clicked her tongue and caressed him, gently, but patronisingly enough for him to brush her away.

“Anything I can do to help?”

“No. Yes. Get me something to drink.”

Jacques was usually brusque with Mahla, but she seldom complained. His attentions had elevated her above many of her companions; she shared a bed with an officer. Perhaps beneath the facade of the eager coquette she hoped to truly seduce him, to make him care enough to provide for her or even to marry her, but war had long-since destroyed any romanticism in both of them. This had attracted him to her far more than her youth or her looks.

As she climbed out of bed, he could not help but think of how her body reminded him faintly of a doll; beautiful, but slightly disproportionate.

She returned with a glass of water, which washed the worst of the foulness away. Mahla climbed back into bed, out of habit rather than desire. Silence passed between them; Mahla had long ago grown used to Jacques’s temperament, his sullen moods and his rare but terrifying fits of anger and knew enough to keep quiet this morning.

It was uncomfortably warm in the bed, but Jacques was too tired to move, and simply lay in his wretchedness for several long minutes. Mahla turned to face away from him, pointedly.

He glanced at his chrono – he needed to get dressed. In fifteen minutes the regiment would be assembling for the morning service and ideally he needed to see Colonel Haakon before then. His recent heroism would not excuse any neglect of his responsibilities.

Sighing, he reached for the stimm-pills. Another bad habit he had collected after nearly a decade in the Emperor’s service, but necessary at times like these. He chewed at the capsules before swallowing and crawled out of bed to refill his glass to wash them down.
 
Jacques looked at himself in the mirror, running a hand through his thinning hair. He looked pale, and one of his eyes was bloodshot. He briefly considered asking a medicae for an analgesic, but supplies were limited.

He washed his face in the cracked basin several times, ran a wet comb through his hair and shaved. Mahla played the housewife and prepared his uniform, making a fuss of some starch on his tunic.

Jacques thanked her as he dressed, and she put his peaked cap on her head and saluted him in response. He smiled, despite himself, and she offered him the hat with a theatrical flourish.

Rubbing at his eye, he stepped out of his prefab cabin into the dawn light.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2010, 03:35:06 AM by Inquisitor Sargoth »
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