CHAPTER 4: IN THE ETERNAL HURRICANE
He wondered where she was now.
Often he would hear the men talking, telling that they had seen her, a red-haired girl far in the distance struggling against the raging wind.
Last night as he had lain in his tent he had heard a lone voice singing in the darkness, low and clear through the never-ending wolf howl of the storm.
“Marie most innocent”
“Hear my song.”
“Watch over me.”
“And lead me through the night.”
Already they were singing hymns to her. And often when watches were changed in the night the standard salute of “Ave Mabus” was answered with “Et Ave Marie.”
Cole wondered if Mabus knew that he was now sharing his divinity with her in the minds of his soldiers. He wondered what it was about her that appealed to them.
He supposed that it was the idea of a girl descending into Hell out of love for her father, someone who didn’t have to be here but chose to be. But he knew his men, and he would not have thought them prone to sentiment. Devotion to her had sprung up almost overnight and had taken him completely by surprise.
Where would it end? Two days before a Hussar had been knifed in the mess for telling a rather gruesome joke about her death.
Maybe it was because they needed more than Mabus could give them. Mabus could inspire them, rally them, threaten them, terrify them. But he could not love them. Mabus could send them out into the desert. But only Marie could care whether they lived or died. At least, so it was in their heads.
Cole opened his eyes and watched the darkness. For tradition’s sake he pulled at the chains but they held as firm as ever. He remembered the first thing he always told a squad before he took them out on a sortie. “Die before you let them take you prisoner. Always. Do not let these things take you alive.”
Great advice Cole, he thought to himself. If only you weren’t the only one in the squad who hadn’t followed it.
“Do I even have a chance of beating you?”
“Way I was trained. I have to be able to predict any possible outcome. So if I’m in a fight and there’s more than one guy, I have to be able to out-think any plan they might come up with and I have to do it quickly. War is like chess, that’s why it was invented, to train princes and generals to think tactically. So just like I can see any outcome of a fight, I can see any outcome of a chess game.”
“So I can’t beat you?”
“No. Your move.”
Isabella blew a clump of black hair out of her eyes with a grumpy huff and moved a bishop three squares diagonally.
“Check.” she said, without much enthusiasm.
“Good move.” he said kindly and moved a pawn forward, trapping her bishop. Isabella swore under her breath.
“Where did you learn to play?” he asked, lining up the pieces he had conquered in neat little formations.
“Mariana.” she muttered, her hand covering her mouth as she tried desperately to rescue the board.
Cole didn’t say anything. Mariana was a taboo subject.
She had been foster mother to Marie and Isabella and had perished along with all the other Temporal Adepts when Mabus had bombed their council. Marie and Isabella had been spirited away by Mabus, and had ended up in the Scorpion’s unlikely care. Now Marie was gone, traded by Mabus to the demon Rashgiel, and Isabella was left alone, with only Cole for company. Their relationship was complex. On the one hand, Isabella was very grateful to have Cole. On the other, she could never forget that he worked for the man who had taken everything away from her.
“Cole, what did you do?” Isabella asked him.
“Well, you were going to Hell, weren’t you? That’s why you joined with Mabus.”
Her dark eyes seemed to be probing him. He wondered how someone so young could look so sick of life.
“What did you do?” she asked him.
“I killed a lot of people.” he said simply “That’s the long and short of it.”