Last to Die

Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake

– Last to Die, Bruce Springsteen

~*~

There had always been battles.

Leander thought there were memories before the fighting, but times like this, they were hard to pull up.

He hadn’t expected this to blow up into a full blown war. He hadn’t thought the crew of soldiers, Aelfgar’s crew, would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S Army.

At least not openly. He’d served, not army but Marines. So had much of Aelfgar’s crew, before they took on the job of fighting Nedetakaei who got out of hand.

Now there were monsters on both sides of the battlefield and Leander was doing his best not to side eye the Oath-Breaking assholes.

The one who called herself a Queen might have wanted these shitheads here, but we don’t, their “Duke ” had told Aelfgar. Leander figured it was more like we thought it would be great but they’re not sharing their toys,but either way. Fight the shitheads today, fight the assholes tomorrow, hope you don’t end up fighting the Army on Wednesday, that was how they were rolling

And the shitheads, they were grade-A shitheads for sure. A team of so called returned gods who had taken over the city and proceeded to slaughter, pillage, and terrify their way through it, until the Army had finally said Enough, they looked and acted younger than the normal (and didn’t it suck that they had a normal now to compare to?) Returned God dickhead — i.e., it wasn’t one big dickhead with a bunch of minions or critters claiming a city and fighting all comers mano-a-godo, it was this massive crowd of younger dickheads. 

Leander was not impressed.  The Army was not impressed. Shit, even the Nedetakaei weren’t impressed, and it didn’t take much to impress them.

“You understand the mission?”  Aelfgar looked over his troops.  “We destroy them. We don’t need information; the Army doesn’t need information – or they ain’t gonna get it, at least, even if they think they do.  We destroy every one of these assholes. Right down to ash. You remember that — you remember some of us can come back from quite a bit.  So we rip them apart and we burn the pieces. Got it?”

“Got it.”  It wasn’t Leander; it was a chorus.  Even some of the Nedetakaei joined it.  It was them, the earth fae and the earth humans, against these invaders. 

Then the battle was on.  The Army was doing covering fire and they were doing it well.  Their medics had teamed up with the fae healers and people were doing a better job of not dying than they normally did.  Which was good- because the invaders were vicious. 

Leander had been fighting as long as he could remember.  He had stood against more fae than he could count and he was still standing.  

He fought harder than he had ever fought before.  Time and time again he dove into battle, and time and time again he was pushed back, cut back, thrown back with spells.  He spat out every Working he knew. He shoved himself between monsters from the depths of Hell and soldiers just doing their job, over and over again. 

Twice, a friendly-fire bullet ripped through him.  Twice, he pulled it out and patched the hole with a spat-out spell.  Twice, he saved the life of a soldier by throwing them bodily away from something about to eat them.  Three times, he killed something with his bare hands. 

We rip them apart.

It wasn’t a clean fight, but Leander did – they all did, every fae he could see – his best, their best, to protect the humans.  That got Leander growled at once. “Mind your six and let me look after myself,” a tall kid who couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty growled. 

When the kid saved Leander’s ass a few heartbeats later, Leander did as he’d been asked — more or less. Humans were more fragile, even with fae healers on sight.  Humans would bleed out in the space of time it took a healer to mutter the repair Words; he’d seen it happen.  

He was diving forward into a clump of monsters and would-be gods when he got blindsided by a memory.  For a second, a long second, he was frozen in place, staring at a face that belonged only in his dreams — nightmares — memories that refused to come during waking times. 

The same tall kid shoved him down and shot at an attacking creature or three and Leander shook himself out of it.  Shook himself somewhat out of it.  “You,” he snarled. 

They’d been on the battlefield together, the battle for the Gods when the gods had cursed Leander and his cohort. 

They’d been brothers in arms.  They’d been brothers in every matter that mattered. 

He’d died, he’d come back; he’d died and come back again; he’d done it so long that his dreams were nothing but fighting, battles through the millennia. 

Battles, and betrayal. 

Leander dove forward with a snarl.  “You!” he growled.

The thing that pretended to be a god looked at him.  Looked, and looked again. “… Androkles?”

The name stopped Leander in his tracks, but he did not lower his weapon. 

“That’s not my name anymore.”

It was the name in his dreams.  It was the name in the whispers he tried to ignore.  It was the name in the shadows, peeking out and never spoken, never heard. 

It was the name of the one who’d been stabbed in the back by his best friend.  Or at least, the first of them. 

“It’s you.  I remember you.  I remember-” The thing blinked.  “That was a long time ago.”

“And you betrayed me.  You betrayed all of us.”

“I didn’t – I -Androkles…!”  The thing that wore a face that had once been a friend stepped forward.  Leander jerked the tip of his sword. The thing took a step back. 

“That’s not my name anymore.  You. You were Damon.”

“I was.  I- Androkles…  I remember you. It was a long time ago.  Your eyes are different.”

“My whole self is different, you fucking waste of a good name!”  Leander slashed, too wildly, too widely. He should have made it a real attack.  The thing that looked like Damon backed up. 

“What happened? What happened over here?”

“You killed me, you ass!  You stabbed me in the back and ran off to the enemy!  To them!”  There was something horrible, something unsatisfying, something doubt-inducing, about the confusion in the thing’s eyes. “You killed me.  Slaughtered me.  Killed us.” With each sentence, he swung towards Damon, and with each swing, Damon backed up again. “You betrayed us all, you fucking monster!”

The bellow rang across the battlefield, far louder than he’d meant, far louder than he’d thought possible. 

The rest of the crew roared back.  It was a single movement, a single sound, and they drove forward in purpose, in unity, in fury. 

This time, Leander’s sword swung with precision.  This time, Damon didn’t quite dance back. This time, red blood spilled out over Leander’s blade. 

He stared at the sword, stared at the blood, followed up with a second stroke, and moved on to the next monster.  And the next and the next, the whole crew screaming their defiance at the things that would be their deities. 

He didn’t know when he ran out of targets; he didn’t know when he’d stopped aiming for Damon but had aimed for everyone.  He didn’t know when the army stepped back and waited, but he knew when he blinked his eyes, there Damon was, staring him in the face, blood-splattered and cut with at least seventeen cuts. 

There were nineteen of them in the base crew, nineteen who remembered the time that had been, if only in their worst dreams.  He looked down at Damon.

“Farrah,” he called.  “Angela”

The Army was moving back in, mopping up the rest of the enemy.  There wasn’t much left. The humans were, he noticed, giving their team of soldiers a wide berth.  He didn’t blame them. They had all slipped a little off the edge, he thought. 

He didn’t think, not too much, at least, about if he’d led or pushed them all off that edge. 

The blood was still in his mouth and in his vision.  He was still ready to go off the edge again; perhaps he just hadn’t left it yet. 

Farrah came up to one side of him.  He looked at her, looked at her, and remembered. 

He looked back to Damon.  “You stabbed a lot of us in the back.”  He let the words sound like the violence he wanted to be doing.  He let them taste like the blood in his mouth. 

Damon didn’t move.  He wasn’t sure the monster still could. 

“You stabbed her in the back.  You cut her down when she was trying to save a friend.  I watched you, my own light dying. And then she was gone.”

Still, the monster was quiet.  Leander spat. 

Angela came up to the other side of him.  

He didn’t need to look at Angela.  He knew down to his bones both the look and the look.  

“You killed us all, you bastard.” Her voice was a hiss.  It didn’t need to be anything more than that. 

You killed us all.

“Then kill me,” Damon challenged.  “End it.”

“Oh, no.” Even Leander shivered at the tone in Farrah’s voice.  “No. We won’t kill you. That’s not what we do to traitors.”

“Uh, guys?”  One of the army soldiers broke the tension.  “We’re collecting the prisoners like you said, taking their oaths of surrender.  What about this one? Do you have his oath? I know you said nothing else will hold them…?”

“There’s one other thing that will.  But we’ll settle for an oath.” Angela hauled Damon to his feet.  “Surrender, traitor. Surrender, backstabber.”

Leander didn’t need to say anything else.  The look on Damon’s face said enough even for him. 

“Androkles!” It was a plea, ripped from Damon’s uncertain lips. 

He turned and walked away.  “You killed Androkles,” he called over his shoulder.  “There’s nobody left but me.”

“Surrender,” he could hear Farrah urging.  He wondered how long they could keep Damon panicking before someone told him about the Geneva Convention.

~*~

With thanks to B for naming my characters so that this was no longer a story about [] and [yy], with [tt] and [pp] stopping in. 

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4 thoughts on “Last to Die

  1. Argle bargle context?!?

    I mean, I know some of the fae are reborn and reborn and reborn, and at least one of them was cursed to that by another fae (but that seemed small scale and personal, not “the gods” cursing a whole group), but what *happened* back then …? Or at least, what’s written about it?

    • [yy]… Damon… betrayed the one who’s Leander now – along with their whole unit – for unknown reasons, although there’s some suggestion that he was blackmailed into it – and stabbed Leander literally in the back, which was part of a more figurative backstabbing.

      • Damon’s betrayal was in the story, yes, that part was clear. But who cursed Androkles & company, and why? (Or should that be Aelfgar & company? Was he in charge of the crew then, too?) Who curses their enemies to keep coming back, knowing they’ll still be around, too? What were the sides, then? The retreating gods and the ones who wanted to stay? Why did Damon change sides?

        And in the “now” — the Queen? The Duke? The modern pre-returned fae stories I’ve read have certainly had social hierarchies, but not noble titles in most cases. Is that a Nedetakaei thing? Is there “modern” backstory on them as a society?

        Lots of references. Are there more defined details somewhere to chase down?

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