E X O R N A M E N T I S : P R O L O G U E
Completed August 26, 2019 (♍)
Author's Notes at the end
It didn't look as though it would be much of a fight. The last remaining rebels were scattered about the cliffs, their green cloaks standing out in patches amidst the snow. They went in suspecting an ambush, but Zalbag was unfazed as he watched the former Death Knights flee or fall with little contest or strategy. More than a half dozen had been picked off from a distance by archers. Some, evidently injured or ill, did not even rise to fight as they were slaughtered. The Hokuten pushed on through the rocky pass. This was necessary work, but the battle would never be numbered amongst the glories of the Northern Sky.
"Necessary." It was a word that lingered. If he had been a man unaccustomed to calculating necessities, Zalbag might have lingered also on darker thoughts: of a long road back to an Igros missing one of its tenants. He kept his focus on the present, however, and it served him well when Wiegraf flew at him, dropping suddenly from what might as well have been the blank expanse of a winter sky.
They had been expecting a different sort of ambush, and that miscalculation was entirely Zalbag's fault. What use was saving a handful of starving soldiers to a cornered fanatic? What could he gain from the death of a few Hokuten? Here as at Igros his plan remained the same: strike off the head. It was effective. The rest of the company already seemed thrown into a confusion for all the good they now did him. He had just barely managed to parry Wiegraf's initial lunge, and in the process had been driven farther from the fray and nearer to the cliff's edge. It was inelegant, brutal, something that ought to have been predicted—of course it was effective.
Wiegraf shouted something that was lost in the snow and continued to advance, fighting not quite desperately, but with the unmistakable recklessness of someone resigned to their own martyrdom. Neither landed a blow, but Zalbag continued to lose ground and the Hokuten continued to take their damned time looping back. Beat. Riposte. Counter riposte. Another thwarted advance. Another retreat. When there was no ground left him, Zalbag became reckless himself. Had Wiegraf been more cool-headed, he surely would have gored him on the next pass; instead he caught a swipe to his sword arm, stopping and stumbling as his blade clattered to the rocks below. Their eyes met in the midst of soldiers shouting, and before Zalbag could close in for the kill, the heavens burst into an outpouring of fire.
The spiral of distant rockets bled into the sky, and both men mirrored one another's expression as they realized Zeakden was burning. Zalbag paused. Wiegraf did not. He leapt, catching the other man’s throat in his gloved hands as they both tumbled from the clifftop and into space, the glare of the conflagration illuminating them as they fell.
There was a surety in that drawn and suspended moment, when Zalbag felt the weight of their approaching deaths. Red faded to black faded to burning white, and as the breath slipped from his lungs, he drifted into the mysteries of this personal Golgorand and could not find it fearful. All things moved as they ought. All deeds would be counted. No sparrow or saint fell without being reckoned.
He floated in the stillness of that assurance, and let it fill him with a light hotter than flame and brighter than snow. When they hit the earth, when they lived, when they struggled and somehow separated—all of it was unasked for. He followed Wiegraf when he fled through the drifting smoke, but he did not marvel that the man should choose that night to put off dying.
Author's Notes: This prologue was originally a ficlet that sort of sparked my realization that I should totally ship these two tragic idiots who never actually meet in game. It occured to me that--like many things relating to Zeakden--there's never actually any exploration of precisely what happened once Zalbag pursued Wiegraf into the mountains, as the player is presumably more concerned with what's happening regarding Algus, Delita, etc... Once I thought about what that fight might actually look like, I realized that--dang--both of these guys certainly have a lot of interesting parallels and a lot of angsty weirdness I want to explore through an angsty weird hookup. So this entire piece of writing proceeded from there.