• In Flagrante Delicto - "Red Handed"

    I. The Moat of Halsborad

    I am lost.

    A strong westward wind blew along the grassy badlands, and whipped up the mesa upon which the lone figure stood. A tangled mane of ebony hair flailed in exultation at the wind's attention, and the man- if man was the correct word for the creature- closed his eyes. The wind carried the familiar scents of brine and sagebrush, and for a moment, the man forgot himself.
    The wind carried on, taking the sweet scents of the man's homeland with it. He did not grimace as the disgust of the battlefield once again renewed its affront on him, did not flinch. No, he held on to the memory of that swift relief as tightly as a mind could, and savored the respite.

    "My lord." The words were baritone and cool- emotionless but for a hint of amused cynicism at their use. This was not a sign of disrespect; at least, the man had come to believe so after two centuries of hearing it. No, it was how all of his people had come to sound. Amused cynicism when a child spoke to his mother. Amused cynicism when lovers spoke their secrets. Amused cynicism when a subordinate addressed the Caeda Primus of the Dominion, and only representative of the Red Right Hand within two dozen leagues.

    Magnus Auroch opened his vermilion eyes, but did not turn to face the officer. A renegade ray of aether pierced through the gathering clouds overhead, and reflected off of the burnished and gilded surface of his mithrim armor, and cast his scarlet cape in a new radiance. Gore and flecks of human viscera covered him from spiked boot to plumed helm, and once again he silently prayed for rain.

    The Caeda Primus turned his helm slightly, still facing away from the officer- the only gesture the subordinate needed.
    "They've finished the trench."

    Auroch didn't respond. From his position atop the mesa, he could see the work below. The humans had layed down their arms and surrendered before the battle had even begun. A curious display, for the cherry-bleeders knew that whether or not they had a weapon in hand never changed their fate when they wore the uniform of an enemy.
    It had been worse for these, though. The Thraecians had made sport of the cherries, breaking legs and arms and forcing them to dig in awkward positions. It wasn't just that these humans were the last of the Imperial Army, the twelve or thirteen thousand people holding on to the silly idea of human supremacy in Thraece. No, Auroch knew there was a baser motive behind his troop's malice.

    We wanted a battle. This has become a play-thing for Thraecians. The empowerment over those civilized, educated humans is exhilerating to us. They see our polished mithrim, our honed ranks, our swift tactics, our tight formations, our perfect control, and our confident wolf smiles, and they know we are not the barbarians they condescended for so long. We see that realization in their eyes, the shock, the confusion, and the fear... and soak it in like a drug.

    "My lord..." The officer intoned. Auroch thought he heard impatience. He turned at that, and leveled the full force of his scrutiny on the subordinate.
    The officer didn't flinch under that gaze.
    Damn, we've become hard.
    "My lord, the Dragoons await your orders."
    Auroch's brilliant vermilion eyes moved like liquid from the officer to the haft of his mithrim war-axe, which he leaned on. It caught the sunlight especially brilliantly right then, and he marveled at it.
    Though the officer did not fear Magnus Auroch, he was not stupid, and did not push.
    "This is no longer a war, Caeda." Auroch's voice was quiet.
    The officer cocked an eyebrow at that from behind his plumed helm. "My lord?"
    The Caeda Primus sighed, and turned away again to survey the scene below. Countless thousands of humans mulled about in a loose line along a trench about nine miles long, stretching towards the horizon. To the east, the coastal city of Halsborad, emptied of troops, watched through the eyes of children and mothers and grandmothers. Watched their sons and brothers and fathers- watched the Caeda Primus.

    "This is an execution, Caeda. A massacre in the name of nothing more then newfound power. A bloody celebration. War becomes our lover, we lust for it and take it. We live for it and die for it, and so it is our god." Auroch turned once more to the officer.

    "This is is not a war, Caeda, for we have no enemies but those we make, and we have made enemies of all the world that does not kneel to our Dominion. We have made enemies of the sea, the mountains and the wind. We have made enemies of lands and peoples we have never known."

    Magnus Auroch took one last look at the great throng of defeated humans, and turned away to walk past the officer and down the mesa to his private tent. As he past the Caeda, both facing opposite directions, shoulder to shoulder, he paused and whispered parting words.

    "This is not a war, Caeda. This is a holocaust."

    With that, the officer turned and watched the Caeda Primus retreat down the rocky slope to his tent. He stood planted in place, until finally another Caeda approached with a look of impatience. "What is it? What did he say?"
    The Caeda shook his head, but could not pull his gaze away from Auroch until he disappeared from sight. Recovering from his reverie, the Caeda examined his fellow officer, and grinned. "Nothing." He said wryly. Turning, he walked up to the edge of the mesa, and looked down at the scene below. Without hesitation, he held his lance over his head and pumped it up and down, releasing a roar of triumph. Below, the Thraecians answered his call, and descended upon the unarmed men with feral glee.

    The humans had fought for their own land, and so the Dominion had gifted it to them. Around the city of Halsborad, the last refuge of the free man, the trench ran, marking out their territory. The border was painted red, a river of blood- the blood of every last male from the city. A platoon of Dragoons would patrol that border, and no survivor would ever escape to forage for supplies.
    Within a single generation, Halsborad would die, and with it the accusing eyes of the wailing mothers and daughters.

    The Caeda's grin broadened as the filthy cherries were slaughtered like swine.
    "A holocaust..." He whispered, and his words were never heard.