Brothers in Blood
-The City of Smaena-
I dreamt that night.
It felt like I had not traveled into the world of a dream for eons. It felt entirely alien and unfamiliar, and yet, I was in my same military apartment I had drifted off in.
Looking out of the same crumbling hole of a window I had peered through earlier that day.
I could see the buildings of Smaena, only they were stretching for what seemed like eternity.
But this was not the city I had drifted off to sleep in, even aside from the seemingly impossible extent of the architecture there was yet clearer evidence of its distortion.
This was the city as I had known it for much of the last decade, the chaos of every siege and every desperate scrap to retain the streets down below seemed to be all happening at once.
Swirling orange and amber fires burned in the distance, snaking black smoke twisting upward like horrid oppressive obsidian towers.
Screeching Wyverns were ever present overhead, seeming to glide through the air like unnaturally airborne sharks hungry for prey.
The clashing reverberant thrum of steel seemed to come from every direction, although I could not detect any single clear source.
There was a lone figure visible on the streets below. The wounded mother stumbling down the way, the same tattered clothes, the same matted golden hair, only now bearing the face of my own mother.
She also held 3 babes, not one, an impressive feat of strength given her form, one that I believe she only managed due to the ludicrous abstract un-logic of my twisted dreamscape.
I couldn’t see any of the faces of the babies, but I knew their names, ever since I thought of them the names had been echoing in my mind, now made manifest before my dream-addled eyes.
Redricos, Jastor, and Torian. The men of the clan Halese, now just 3 infant pups carried along by their limping mother.
Their faces were turned away from me, and they were blurred by the haze of an uncertain dream and years of distorted memory, but nonetheless I knew my baby brothers.
Something was wrong, though. Even from a distance, even mired in the fog of surreal precariousness, it was dreadfully apparent that something was horribly off with the image I saw of my mother walking through the streets.
Her eyes were sunken, pale milky white. She looked gaunt, certainly far too gaunt to be carrying my three infant brothers. She looked like she had been when I had seen the cold take her.
The same empty look, the same distance, the same emotionless acceptance plastered across her face.
I had never been given time to digest her passing, but now with the recent stirring of my feelings of failure in my familial duties, it was all becoming far too apparent.
My own mother had always resented me for dragging her boys off to the far corners of the Empire to serve like her damned husband had, and I saw it now.
I saw it when her lifeless white hollow gaze drifted up to meet mine for but a brief moment, and I saw all of the crushing, nagging, buried hate she felt for her own firstborn dig into my heart.
As I watched in silent agony from my ruinous window, she began to slowly wither and distort before my eyes.
Her skin began to grow taught and stretch against her bones, I could bear no more, but my horrified gaze turned to my brothers.
They had turned blue and didn't make a single movement, not a breath, to indicate they still clung to life. They simply sat limp in my mothers cradled arm.
Slowly, one by one, they fell out of my mothers grasp, hitting the cobbled road with a sound so appalling it made my entire being twitch with revulsion.
The sound seemed to cause every fiber of the dreamscape to convulse, the twisted towers of ebony smoke and snaking sky wyverns all seemed to cry out in evil approval.
My mother marched on with complete indifference, turning her eyes back to the road. She had long ago accepted that she had lost her boys, long ago accepted that she would never see their faces again.
Another brother fell, another sickening thud and wet crunch, the dark chorus howling in harmony once again.
My mother now looked as horrifying as the undead I had seen during my time at the front, an empty decayed husk, only barely retaining anything that made her my mother.
The last brother began to slip from her, and my mother began to collapse with him.
I had to turn to look away, I whirled my head back from the window to face the doorway covering my ears, I had to do anything to avoid the sound, the guilt.
My father stood there in the doors open frame, regaled in his Imperial kit, his face panned up to meet mine and I saw the same eyes I had seen my legionaries give me, sorrow, pity, disappointment.
The last thud rang out, unavoidably loud, the sounds flooded my ears, sending coursing painful energy flowing through me, pulling me suddenly from that horror and back into my cot in a cold sweat.
The rest of the night was like a fevered hellish continuation of the nightmare, I was bound in some purgatory between a mind possessed by the horrors that were already fading from memory, and the simple physical need for some degree of rest.
Dawn arrived with far too much haste, I wasn't sure of how much sleep I had actually mustered, but it was not near enough to rid me of exhaustion, nor to purge my mind of the dread in my soul.
I scraped together as much of myself off of the cot as could be found, and spilled out of bed into the waiting dawn atop the wall, greeted by my men.
Here now was another site I had hardly ever seen reflected in their faces.
Doubtless I likely wore openly how cataclysmic my attempt at sleep had been, but their faces told me clearly that it may have even been worse than I had predicted.
I had seen these faces before, it was rare, but it was a look ordinarily reserved for when my men had seen me after a particularly close and brutal grapple with an adversary.
Scraps where I had come out bloodied and bruised and with wounds I still bore mighty scars from, it was a look of great concern for their leader, a leader they feared they might soon lose.
Now I was being given the same worried and frantic eyes as I splashed and sputtered out of my apartment, I must have looked like hell.
Regardless of my state, I made sure to straighten up enough to encourage my men to do the same, and to give their Legate a proper salute.
“Derim, call the lads down to the camp they’ve set up over on Copper street, i need to address the Laenarm this morning.”
The words croaked out of me, interrupted by the occasionally winded pause for air as my entire body seemed to reject the notion of me being upright.
I tried to sound dignified, but even after many years of practice, there simply was no dignity left in the sad tired Legate that stood before those men this morning.
“At once sir!”
Both of my guards cried out at once, the instant response was a welcome and much needed respite from the series of minor humiliations, although as I saw them both begin to scurry down the stairs, I noticed Derim pause a moment and turn back to me.
“Sir, are you dying?”
He almost sounded on the verge of tears and he resembled both in demeanor and tone that of a sad dog.
At last that was the motivation that caused me to snap back into my stern commanding facade, if only for a moment, I was like a father to many of the boys, I needed to act the part, even if for one more day
“I'm just fine soldier, now you’ll go dispatch those orders at once, and make sure the boys have a bowl of soup ready for me by the time im down there or i'll have your rations”
Gods, it almost felt natural again, it almost felt like all of the doubt was preposterous, this was who i was, these were my true brothers, brothers and sons and comrades all of them.
Derim perked up right away, his lightly glistening eyes went wide and a wholesome suppressed smile crept across his face.
“Yes sir! Right away sir!”
He said the words quickly and turned to racing back, likely not wanting to flaunt too much emotion in front of his Legate.
Despite the fact that I was not dying though, I did feel as though I was lying to Derim in some capacity.
Although not going to my death, I did not know if I would ever see the boy again after today.
I had made up my mind that morning, stewing in the vestiges of that terrible dream, I had decided that I had to take leave of my Laenarm.
I felt in my soul that I was alone and that my brothers, my true brothers, Redricos, Jastor, and Torian were dead, the omen of the dream seemed almost painfully obvious.
But I had to know for certain, and I had to find out on my terms, at my pace, and see if I could give our family the honor it deserved, and bury my brothers with our parents.
Once that was done, once I had buried the last men of Clan Halese, I would finally be ready to go back to my brothers in blood, the family I had chosen.