House Cleaningft. @Leidenschaft and @Spoopy Scary
Solomon waited by the staircase at the back of the great hall that led down to the storerooms, leaning against one of the massive stone pillars that held up the ceiling. Looking up at the state of the structure, he could only hope that the subterranean rooms beneath their feet hadn’t collapsed in on themselves. They needed those supplies, and Solomon needed a certain something that he knew was sequestered in the back of the armory.
The others had dispersed and gone about their own business, and he looked up when Janus approached. Solomon gave the man a nod of respect. He was glad that the big warrior had come with them this far, and he hoped that the Colovian would stay. “Sorry about your sword,” Solomon said by way of greeting. “It looked like a fine piece. With any luck, there’ll be something suitable for you in the armory.” He nodded over to the stairs that circled into the rock. Impenetrable blackness awaited them.
Janus peered down the shadowed stairway, squinting hard as if it would help him see through the black. He chose to ignore the bit about the sword, the loss of it felt as if he’d left behind a hand. Though, Solomon was right, perhaps there would be something suitable for Janus down in the armory. Besides, that was where he was headed anyway. “Why this place?” Janus asked, turning to Solomon, “Ken Muhyr?”
“Because it’s isolated, defendable and abandoned,” Solomon answered. “And few people know about it, which is convenient because it’s our business to know more than our enemies. Every province has one or more fallback locations like this. It was stocked with supplies after the Great War, though I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t been properly maintained since then. I came here once, to familiarize myself with the place, when I first moved to High Rock, so I knew where to find it and what to expect.” He placed a hand against the stone and patted it once as he looked around. “Needs some love, but she’ll do.”
“So important they abandoned it.” Janus pursed his lips, shaking his head. The budget cuts and reshuffling must have hit some harder than others. Savian dropped in an embassy while Solomon was shoved into an inn was evidence enough.
But who was Janus the wanderer to talk, “Let’s get on with it. You’ll need whatever’s down here.”
Solomon sighed. “Long past are the days of the Blades, who were able to maintain a constant presence at Cloud Ruler Temple for centuries. The Empire isn’t what it used to be. We all have to make do with less than our predecessors.”
Putting those thoughts aside, Solomon drew his falchion from its scabbard and tested the edge with his thumb for a moment before nodding and descending down the stairs, taking point. “Yes, let’s.” It seemed only fair after the Colovian’s duel with the Rider. He lifted a torch from its sconce on the wall on his way down in his other hand and lit it with a spell, banishing the immediate dark around them.
A door waited for them at the bottom of the stairs but it was already ajar, the lock burned or melted away by some foul essence. “Thought so,” Solomon said quietly. “Something made its way in here.”
Bruno’s unmistakable voice echoed from up the stairs behind them, though it was more sour than usual. “Good thing I decided to come down here too then,” he said, letting his weight fall onto each step of his descent. His hatchet was in hand and he was wearing the same angry look on his face ever since they left the cabin, though Solomon’s body cast a gloomy shadow over him amidst the torchlight that seemed to underline the fact that his anger was not like his usual boisterous self. He looked like he came down here with the express intent to kill something. “Thought I heard rats a-scurryin’, but turns out it was just you two.”
“You hunt, yeah?” Janus quirked a brow at the sturdy figure of Bruno in the flickering torchlight, at least there was one man he liked here, “Gotta wonder how you do it if your step sounds like rockfall.”
“I can turn it off.” He replied bluntly. “When I want to.”
“Best start wanting, friend.” Janus smirked, turning back towards the door left suspiciously ajar, and took his axe and knife in hand. Perfect tools for tight spaces, at least. His saber wouldn’t be missed here.
“Ladies, please,” Solomon said. “Focus.”
He kicked open the door and stepped inside, brandishing the torch and falchion in equal measure -- light was as much a weapon down here as steel was. It revealed the first of the storerooms mostly as Solomon remembered it -- the ceiling was low and barrels and crates of preserved foodstuffs were scattered about. Some of them had been opened, either by mandible or by claw, and their contents spilled out, consumed or left to rot.
More important and more urgent, however, were the thick cobwebs that covered the ceiling and the walls, and the creatures that stirred among them. “Frostbite spiders,” Solomon surmised, and he was proven right by the first of them that leapt at him with a fierce hiss, an eight-legged monstrosity the size of a large dog. He caught it on the tip of his falchion and the arachnid impaled itself on his blade, sliding down the steel weapon, jaws chattering as it tried to reach for Solomon’s arm to inject its venom.
Five more emerged from the gloom. Janus was the second target, the spider leaping much the same and Janus caught its fangs on the end of his axe’s head, bearing its weight as he thrust his long knife up into its body. He wrenched it out and spilled its guts as he threw it from him.
“Looks like sneaking won’t be a problem,” Bruno said as he glared down the familiar faces of frostbite spiders. “Lucky me.”
After spending his childhood in northern High Rock, it became easy to tell what the warning signs of frostbite attacks, and seeing the crouching spider before it leaped was almost nostalgic. He seemed to sidestep away before it even leaped forward, and swung his axe wide, striking it in its underbelly and allowing its momentum to carry it overhead and strike it against the ground behind him. He jerked his weapon out to bash the handle at the mouth of another incoming spider before kicking it away, and his eye found one of the spiders behind the other rearing back to start spitting venom at them. Bruno preemptively ducked down and batted it away with the flat of his axe, splashing it against the stonework.
“Solomon, your torch!” He yelled. “The bastards don’t like fire and they aren’t immune to their own venom. Bunch of right pricks!”
“Catch!” Solomon yelled in return after pulling his blade free from the now-dead spider and tossed the torch over to Bruno. He had something better than that. With his left hand free, his fingers contorted into a claw and he held it out in front of him. A roaring jet of fire sputtered to life and Solomon forced the spiders back with the washing flames. The cobwebs caught fire and incinerated, burning up as the spark raced up the walls and the ceiling, leaving the stonework and old wood support beams untouched. He was careful where he aimed, as there were still unspoiled crates and barrels left in the storeroom, but he advanced steadily to force the spiders into a corner.
Desperate to escape the blazing heat, the three spiders scattered in all directions. “Now!” Solomon yelled and cut off the flow of magicka to the spell abruptly, and instead aimed a precise spike of ice that pinned one of the escaping spiders to the ceiling where it had skittered up to.
Janus had tired of the fight the second it had begun. When the spiders turned and ran, he pursued his, growling like a bear as he took a swipe at it and catching only a leg. The thing screeched and flailed about before Janus took it by its remaining legs with his offhand and hauled it back towards him. With a throaty growl, he brought his axe down once, twice, and three times until it curled into itself and died.
“I didn’t know you were a fucking wizard.” Bruno commented, watching the flames lick away at the cobwebs and casting long shadows across the room. Its orange glow and fierce heat seemed like it was enough to scare the rest of them off. The brief chuckle escaped his lips, “Neither did these shits. We should smoke them out of their burrows before they start laying any more eggs.”
With that, he placed the torch Solomon gave them into one of the holes in the wall that a spider crawled into. The rising heat and smoke, he hoped, would draw it back out for him to exterminate with his axe lying in wait. As far the other spiders went, they were already too far out of his range. He didn’t think that he’d have to bring his bow into such close quarters.
Solomon looked at Bruno with surprise. “You didn’t notice?” he asked. “I was using spells pretty liberally during the fighting at the inn. The Penitus Oculatus taught me. Field agents are all nightblades or spellswords of some kind.”
“Suppose I was a little distracted to tell who was casting what.”
Solomon paused for a moment to catch his breath and to assess the situation. They were in the first of the storerooms; more lay beyond a door at the far end of the low-ceilinged space, its lock similarly dissolved with the acidic venom the frostbite spiders produced. “Kill that one when it comes back out,” he said and nodded to the hole Bruno was smoking out, “and then see if you can harvest any of their venom, if you want. We should pile them up and burn them afterwards.”
In the meantime, the spymaster turned to Janus. There hadn’t been time to speak plainly before to discuss things Solomon didn’t want the others to hear. He glanced sidelong at Bruno -- the man was already invested in the fight against the cult for personal reasons, so he doubted there was anything Janus could say to discourage him. A Nord, once his mind is made up…
“Why did you say this war is already lost, Janus?” Solomon asked. He didn’t sound accusatory, but there was still a hint of an edge in his voice.
Janus replaced his axe at his hip and sheathed his knife, turning to Solomon. He glanced at Bruno and back, “Because it is.” He spoke bluntly, “Look at us. You and me are the only ones with the skills to deal with things like this, and you and me aren’t enough.”
He nodded at Bruno, “We have a forester, up there’s two girls I’m sure haven’t ever brawled, let alone fought a guerilla war.” Janus hooked his thumbs in his sash, “What do we really have to work with? Henry?”
“I told you I’m not fighting other men’s wars. ‘Specially not with these long odds.” He shook his head left and right, slow as slow. In this place, among men like him, the smiling Janus was nowhere near, “And that fancy goddamn badge ain’t nothing
to me no more.”
“I’ve fended off beasts and Forsworn raiders from my home, but bears and pissant tribals are a far cry from a provincial takeover.” Bruno admitted with a nod. “I’m no soldier, but even I know a handful of bastards an army doesn’t make. I’m also willing to wager we’re not the only ones who made it. If we want a larger crew, we need to start by considering those who know how to live outside city walls. I’m talking bandits.”
Scurrying echoes within the walls as smoke filled its nook and crannies. A spider crawled out, drunk and dazed by smoke, and not expecting an axe to come down on its head like a guillotine. One more left.
Bruno continued, “Most leaders probably won’t submit without a fight. So take out their boss, and promise the rest fame and fortune for liberating a whole damn city. Maybe even a title. I don’t really know how it works, but you get the idea. Maybe then when we finally take a city, we could actually use real soldiers. Maybe they didn’t kill ‘em all.”
Solomon slowly shook his head. “We aren’t fighting an army. They’re a cult of zealots, not the Aldmeri Dominion, or even the Stormcloaks. Cut off the snake’s head and the body dies. The Lord of Moths and the High Priests -- assassinate them, install a lawful ruler on the throne, and this all ends.” He knelt down next to one of the unopened barrels and popped the lid with his falchion, revealing salted meats chilled with frost salts. “Don’t need an army for that. Just intelligence and a sharp blade. This isn’t the first insurrection I’ve put down.”
Satisfied that the meat was still good, Solomon straightened back up and returned his focus back to Janus. He wanted to say more and explain more about his plans and ideas, until the exact words that the Colovian had used struck him. “You said that the badge meant nothing to you no more.
What does that mean? What do you know of the Penitus Oculatus?”
Janus frowned, “More than I wanted.” He said, turning away and taking a few steps before he stopped for the other two, “Are we finished here yet? Or you want to keep measuring cocks over how many insurrections we’ve put down between us?”
“Doesn’t matter who they are.” Bruno retorted, changing the subject back to the actual problem. He couldn’t care less about the Peni-penis Ocu-whatever-you-call-it. “If they’re as fanatic as Forsworn, then I
can tell you killing one of ‘em ain’t gonna stop all of ‘em. If they aren’t lying and somehow actually took every
kingdom in High Rock, then they have the numbers. Maybe a hierarchy. You can take the chance in doing everything yourself, or you can pull an army out your ass. Either way you still need to defend those cities.”
“He’s right,” Janus added to Bruno’s words, “How many of Ulfric’s old Chiefs you think are still wanting to fight the good fight? I watched him die. But his ideas ain’t dead yet. And there’s a whole lot still ain’t happy with the Empire.”
“I’d have to defend the cities if I intended to rule these lands, but I don’t,” Solomon said. “That isn’t my duty. Order must be restored and authority returned to rightful rulers. Daggerfall’s king is dead, but there’ll be someone to take his place. There always is. I saw the people. They didn’t welcome the cultists. They were afraid. Sow chaos, take out the High Priest, inspire the populace. They’ll defend their own city. And after Daggerfall comes Camlorn, and Shornhelm, and so on. That’s how we do this. One step at a time, until it’s done.”
The Imperial sighed. “Though I don’t know why I bother explaining this to you, Janus. It’s not your fight if you don’t want it to be. I’m sure you’ll make the world a much better place somewhere where the going isn’t so tough.”
That was a petty shot and Solomon knew it, but he was frustrated with the big man. Knowledge of the Penitus Oculatus, involvement in the suppression of the Stormcloak Rebellion -- he was clearly cut out for this job, and it felt to Solomon like he was witnessing dereliction of duty happening in front of him. “Whatever,” he grumbled and turned towards the door. “Armory is this way. Come on.”
“Making the world a better place ain’t my duty. And trust me.” Janus snorted, “Was never yours either. I thought the Oculatus needed men with more between their ears than a sense of duty and loyalty to orders.”
“Working outside the boundaries of honor and the strictness of the Legion to do everything an honorable man wouldn’t.” Janus pursed his lips, almost riling himself up about things he no longer seemed to care about, or outright resented, “Penitus Oculatus, the Emperor’s Tertia Optio. Or did that get reshuffled too?”
“Nevermind that defending a city has nothing to do with ruling it.” Bruno added with his own brand of bitterness. “I don’t know how you do things in this dumb faction, but it sounds like lone wolf shit to me. And I get it, me too. But if they’re able to go in and take a whole fucking city and its guard, it’s gonna take a whole lot more than uppity peasants to defend it. Whole lot of fuckin’ good your so-called duty is gonna do if they decide to come back and take Daggerfall again. You’re fighting an entire fucking war whether you like it or not, and the whole lone wolf thing has come and gone.”
“And Janus,” Bruno added, turning to him this time, “I know this ain’t your home, and all the gods know I don’t give a shit what happens miles away from me either. But where the fuck do you plan on going that there ain’t gonna be no undead or crazy idiot waiting for you? Because if you can think of one, I’m two seconds from kicking you in the dick for holding out on us. None of us wants to be holed up in a dusty fort either! We’d all
rather be getting fat and having sex on the Gold Coast, but we can’t,
because there are a thousand monsters between here and there waiting to kill us.”
Finally, he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. His hand was shaking and a headache was wracking his brain between the smoke and trying to settle what he thought was a stupid dispute between two old soldiers. “You two, just… be a good neighbor and help me take back my
home. Free Daggerfall. After that, the both of you can go back to bitching about your lives as much as you want.”
Solomon was glad for Bruno’s intervention, because his grip on his falchion had already tightened and the arcs of lightning that he favored were close to dancing around his fingers. Janus insulting his honor had been one step too far, but killing the man over the slight wouldn’t have helped anyone. Solomon took a deep breath and forced himself to nod at Bruno. “Of course,” he said. “Your home comes first. A promise is a promise.” After a final glance at Janus, Solomon turned his back on him and marched over to the door. “We have an armory to liberate. Let’s get to it.”
He slowly pushed the door open with the tip of his boot and peeked inside. It was even darker in there than it had been in the storeroom, and Solomon resorted to magic this time, conjuring a magelight and sending it into the armory. It illuminated racks of weapons lined up against the walls, anything from halberds to axes and swords to daggers, and numerous grindstones and tables for maintenance and repair. The back wall had been destroyed, however, and the magelight’s rays were not powerful enough to resolve the abyss beyond. A subterranean cave, Solomon figured, and the sound of running water coming up to them from the deep confirmed his suspicions. “Might be how the spiders came in here,” he mumbled to himself.
As if on cue, a giant frostbite spider, clearly the largest of the brood, climbed out of the depths and shot a glob of venom at him. “Fuck!” Solomon yelled and dove for cover behind one of the armor tables.
Janus had swept his eyes over the menagerie of weapons just before the spider had arrived. He jumped to the first one he saw, grasping up the spear and sending it sailing straight into the body of the monstrous spider with a roar. He grasped up the second, a crossbow. It felt familiar in his hands, he’d lost the last one in Skyrim, and he missed the feeling of one in his grip. He took cover with Solomon, loading the first bolt onto the crossbow and sighting up, breath even. At the top of his first breath, he squeezed the trigger and felt the jolt, the bolt flying towards the spider and striking it. He ducked back down, loading another as he spoke to Solomon, “Anymore fire?”
Firelight illuminated the hall, but it didn’t come from Solomon. Bruno had picked up his torch and charged ahead after Janus’ volley of spears and bolts, as the low growl rumbling in his throat quickly escalated in a thundering roar. He batted its legs away to hack his axe into the giant spider’s side. Though its chittering caterwauls were shrill, he dug in his heels and used his axe to pull the spider in closer, either gone mad or unafraid of its dripping fangs, so that he could thrust the hot torch into its face. It reeled back and grazed against Bruno’s arm with one of its fangs, but the shepherd kept his hold secure on his axe and was pulled along with it. He yanked out the crossbow bolt from its exoskeleton and with desperate and enraged shouting, throwing every vile insult and slur at it that he could think of, repeatedly stabbing at its eyes as he was dragged into its den.
“You eight legged piece of shit! You gods-damned oversized, prickly cunt!” He roared as the spider pushed him off with its forelegs. He jumped back up to his feet and charged it again, prying open its exoskeleton with the spear lodged in its abdomen. He was immediately sprayed with its insides and covered in ichor -- but it didn’t seem to faze him.
“I’ll kill you!
I’ll kill every last one of you fucks!
” His insults were sprinkled intermittently between his attacks, stabbing at its face repeatedly with the spear in several downwards thrusts. “Then maybe, just fucking maybe,
I for once can have a home that won’t fucking burn down!
Maybe, just maybe,
I could have a family!
There was no escaping death for the giant wounded spider at this point, even if it did manage to escape. As it weakly struggled to back away, Bruno thrusted the spear through its leg and into the ground so that it would be pinned in place. Suddenly it didn’t seem like he was talking about the spider anymore.
” He continued roaring, kicking the monster in its head while it was down. “Because gods willing, there’s always got to be fetchers like you who just keep fucking TAKING!
” He kicked it again, crushing one of its mandibles beneath his boot. “You take my land! You take my parents! I’m tired of all the stupid fucking monsters, I’m tired of the stupid fucking soldiers, the fucking people!
Just give me back my life!
” He ripped out his axe and stood before the spider like an executioner. Then with several savage and over-headed swings, he carved its body into pulp with each and every word he spoke. “GIVE! ME! BACK! MY! WIFE!”
Solomon jumped to his feet when Bruno was dragged out of the armory and ran after the man, but the sounds of the Nord's hard-fought victory and all the rage that spilled out at the same time reached him before he reached them. The Imperial stopped just short of the broken wall and listened instead, and his expression turned from fear for Bruno's life into something worse -- fear for the man's sanity. He sympathised with the loss, even if he'd never had a wife of his own, but the savagery that occurred just beyond the dark precipice spoke of a man that was threatening to fall apart.
He looked over his shoulder at Janus, all enmity between them forgotten. "I had no idea he had a wife," Solomon said softly. He hesitated. Fury led to darkness, and despite his own losses, the spymaster had never allowed himself to go down that road. It was his biggest rule. But then he'd never invited disaster by trying to settle down and raise a family. Suddenly the box of clothes in Bruno's hut made sense and Solomon turned away. This was too intimate. He wasn't supposed to be seeing this. Joy would know what to say, but not him.
Instead, Solomom busied himself with the weapons and searched for a sword to replace Janus' saber. After a moment of Janus’ empathy for the big man’s screams, he went to help Solomon with the endeavor, his head bowed. As they perused the stock of sharp metal and grindstones, Janus spoke, “Why an inn?” He asked. Solomon had to know what he asking, his voice less biting now, “Some of us were put in embassies. Why an inn?”
It took a second for Solomon to change gears and put all thoughts of Bruno and his past aside. “To gather intelligence,” he said and lifted a slim, slightly curved blade out of the weapon racks, and continued to speak while he held it up to inspect it. “Not very exciting, and definitely not the kind of position that my training and experience would point towards, but… well, you were there,” he explained and sighed. The sword looked to be an Akaviri-inspired katana, similar to the old weapons that the Blades once used. “Makes it all the more embarrassing that I didn’t see this coming. Whoever this Lord of Moths is, he kept a tight lid on everything. What about this?” Solomon offered the sword for Janus to try.
Janus took the blade by the hilt and tested its balance with a finger on the flat of its blade. He spoke as popped it up and caught it again to give it a test swing, “It’s no saber. Leaves my weapon hand unguarded.” He observed, “Can’t half-sword with it. Beautiful blade though.”
He looked to Solomon, “The Blades couldn’t warn the Emperor before the Dominion attacked. They had enough time to marshal an army and land on Cyrodiil’s shores.” Janus shook his head, “Things happen.”
He plucked another sword from the racks and nodded. A side-sword, fine craftsmanship for Breton upperclassmen. Decent protection for his hand, it’d do. “I should repay you for the blade.” Janus went to work belting it to himself, “Before I leave. What’s your price?”
Solomon evaluated the worth of the sword in septims for a moment before he realized the futility of trying to do so. What use did he have for money at this point? Instead, another thought occurred to him and he looked from the blade back to Janus.
“Teach Henry and Joy how to swing one of those,” he said. “Just for a week or two. You can’t defend them when you’re gone, but you can help them defend themselves. You said it yourself -- they’re dead weight. If they try to help me now, well…”
The Imperial sucked in air through his teeth. “Don’t give them more than a week myself. A month, tops. Which I’ll take from them.” He met the Colovian’s gaze. There was nothing but cold steel in Solomon’s eyes. “You know I will. Isn’t that what we do? Churn people up and spit them out?”
Turning Janus’ words back on him and tugging on his heartstrings was playing dirty, but Solomon didn’t care. This is what it took to win in this craft. “Give them a fighting chance and we’ll call your debt paid.”
“They stay here.” Janus said, equaling Solomon’s steely eyes in intensity. A little bit of Havel peeking through, “You and I both know what we are. It’s been a neat little stage play.”
“I’ll do it. If only to make sure Henry doesn’t trip over himself and put his big fucking axe through his forehead.” Janus frowned, glancing to see if Bruno had come crawling back yet and seeing he hadn’t, “You send Joy on one of those fool’s errands to take back a city, I’ll dress you like a buck. She’s a cook
. She cooks
“She ain’t like us.” Janus nodded, spitting in the palm of one of his tattooed hands and offering it out to Solomon.
It wasn’t a difficult decision. Joy learning how to fight was secondary to the primary goal of keeping Janus around a little longer. Delayed plans eventually turn into cancelled plans, Solomon knew. The longer it took for the man to leave, well…
He nodded, spat in his own palm and shook on it with the Colovian. “She cooks,” he echoed. “That’s fair.”
“None of us came crawling out the womb with weapons in hand.” Bruno’s voice rumbled from behind. Upon turning around, they found him staggering back through the hole in the crumbling wall with his weapon in hand. He was covered in sticky ichor and blood, and sweat was pouring down his face. It was hard to make out in the lighting, but his eyes were red even if it didn’t look like any tears had fallen from them. Those floodgates held strong even if the dam had cracked. They shifted between the two men with a still-bitter scowl on his face. “No one’s a fighter ‘til the hour comes. Cook,
” he scoffed, “she’s also a Nord. You’d do well to treat her like one.”
Bruno turned, pointing his axe at the hole from where he emerged. He said, “Thing’s dead. Say the word and I’ll board that hole up ‘til we’re ready to see where it leads,” and as he turned back to march past the other two men, he added, “we will not speak of this.”
Janus shook his head. He’d seen plenty Nords die, man or woman. He’d make damn sure he wouldn’t see this one die, least not on some errand, that much he could do. He turned from Solomon to follow Bruno out, the crossbow slung on his shoulder, his hand resting on the pommel of his new sword. A badge of his new debt. “I’ll start the lessons tonight.” He called over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Solomon replied. “I appreciate it.”
He waited until the two men had left the armory, his eyes fixed on Bruno’s back. The spymaster would have to keep an eye on Bruno from now on and make sure that his mental state didn’t deteriorate further to the point that he became a danger to himself and others. Freeing Daggerfall and giving the man his home back would be the best he could do for him. He sighed before he turned back around. “Alright, now, where are you?” he mumbled to himself and set about the task of rummaging through the mess the spiders had made of the place, searching for something he had squirreled away down here years ago.
It took him more than ten minutes before he finally unearthed the chest he had hidden from beneath one of the overturned armor tables. Solomon grunted and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Finally,” he growled and hoisted the chest upright. He produced the key from his pocket that he had dug up from the bottom of his backpack earlier, when he had settled into his suite at the top of the castle. He tried it on the lock; it still fit snugly. The mechanism resisted him for a moment as he tried to turn it, however, and Solomon fought the rust until he hissed in frustration and zapped the lock with a small bolt of electricity, shocking the oxidized metal clean off.
The chest opened smoothly this time and he threw back the lid, regarding the items that greeted him within with a heavy-lidded gaze. Solomon clenched his jaw. He had hoped he would never need any of it anymore, but the world had different plans. The Imperial fingered the hilt of his old gladius, the pommel carved from ivory and emblazoned with the Dragon of the Empire. Its touch brought back battlefields long past and the lives he had taken there flashed before his eyes.
He reached in for something else and rose to his feet, holding it out in front of him to inspect: the armor and battledress of an Imperial commander, modified over the years to suit the needs of an agent of the Penitus Oculatus. The steel breastplate, decorated with swooping eagles and molded to fit the shape of a muscular chest that he no longer possessed, the elegant vambraces and the pauldrons, carved in the shape of a raptor’s snarling head, were still in fine condition. The artificer metalwork had held up admirably over the years. The white fabric of the hooded battledress, however, complete with the red cingulum straps and the shoulder cape that indicated his rank, trimmed with fur and sporting the coat of a wolf across the shoulders, was worse for wear. It would require serious stitching -- and refitting -- for Solomon to wear it again. Still, he wanted to have it, even if it was just a ceremonial piece. They were at war again, and what was a soldier without his uniform?
“For the Emperor,” Solomon whispered.