The wind was cold, but she couldn’t feel it. The effects of it against her flesh were like echoes in the distance, steadily fading. It was unusual for her kind, for what she had been made into at least, to lose so much sensation. She wondered, but never suggested, that perhaps it wasn’t the body that was numb. Perhaps it wasn’t even the warping of her soul, the abomination she had become when her spirit overwrote the one that ought to dwell within. No, it was just her, as it had always been. She was cold as a frozen glacier. Cold like the howling darkness. There was no room for feeling anything else.
And she saw everything. That was the other thing, but it was a skill that she had honed more recently than one she had been born with, or died with for that matter. For example, she saw the soldiers glancing at her, some awed, most scared. She saw those that straggled behind and remembered their names, but she also saw those that succeeded in tasks, and made mental notes to reward them for their diligence.
As the fire died down behind her, she saw the troll, Heljak, talking awkwardly to the tirau woman whose name she did not care to know, she was a warrior, but not one of Saril’s. She watched the troll wander away from her with an expression equal parts bewilderment and disappointment.
Him, she could understand. He would be like all the other ambassadors, a wordsmith; not a fighter, a burden, but a precious package too. If half the things she had been told about this particular ambassador were true, then maybe the journey would be worth the effort.
Naturally, Saril did not believe the optimistic line, that Narakys was to be the seat of change and that peace was now within their grasp, at least, not as close as her superiors would have her believe. She was in her heart a soldier. She had killed many men and even tasted death herself. Though her recollections of that particular event remained hidden behind a dark veil, sometimes she found that she could recall fragments, but they rarely lingered in her conscious mind long enough to discern anything meaningful. Needless to say, if nothing else, it had taught her the finality of all things. There were always conflicts, but even wars had ends.
‘Captain,’ said a man bowing cordially beside her.
She turned and acknowledged him curtly. He was Abram, like her, a member of the people known collectively as the sans corpus, unlike her, he was not similarly afflicted. He was, in point of fact, his own person. He wasn’t a usurper like she was. He wasn’t an abomination.
‘Report,’ she said.
‘Tents set up, beds made,’ said Abram quickly. He always sounded nervous, but he hid it well. Most would not notice, but she was the exception. ‘As requested I have ordered two men as perimeter guard and a further three remain on standby.’
‘Good,’ said Saril, ‘but I requested for three men to stand guard.’
‘Ah, yes,’ said Abram apologetically. ‘You did say that, and I have opted to take the position of third myself, with your permission.’
‘Granted,’ said Saril. She smiled, but the expression never reached her lips. She liked Abram. He was reliable and he surprisingly adept fighter. He followed orders to the letter and never balked when it came to putting himself on the line. One day he might well make a good commander himself, assuming he didn’t volunteer for a suicide attack first. That, after all, was his one major flaw. Following orders was commendable. Following bad ones was foolish.
‘Respectfully,’ said Abram, the same nervousness about his person, ‘I think you should take rest.’
She stared at him with her yellow eyes boring into him. He put his hands together and lowered his head.
‘I simply believe it to be wise,’ he said, stammering slightly. ‘You are our commanding officer after all and that is a very important position.’
‘The most important position,’ corrected Saril. She looked away so as not to expose her smirk. ‘You’re not wrong though, I shall need to be rested for the march tomorrow. While I sleep you are acting commander.’
‘I… thank you,’ said Abram.
Saril turned and was about to wave him away when a thought came to her.
‘One last thing, Sergeant Abram,’ she said, ‘if we’re attacked in the night, wake me before the killing starts or don’t wake me at all.’
She didn’t need to turn to see the man’s expression pale.