The Account of the Damned Chapter 1: Four Hours

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Four hours before our appointed time of death, it was sweltering, bumfucking hot. That wasn’t to say it was hot outside – strictly speaking, Japan was rather nice this time of year – but rather, that we weren’t afforded any kind of adequate preparatory facility and had spent the last twelve hours and change in full armor. We were hoping to be afforded the time to shower and stretch when we reached the Officio, but right at that moment, most of us would have settled for some water and a toilet break.

The latest travel travesty (travelsty?) and, in any other situation, grave insult that would surely require blood reparations or somesuch (I’ll have to check the handbook if I make it back) was a bus, a normal civilian fucking bus, now loaded with thirty-six women in ebon-black armor and one pasty middle-aged man trying desperately to pretend he understood what was going on. To make matters worse, he had the dubious fortune of having Trinity sitting within glaring distance – she had all the charm of a sock filled with poisonous spiders even on the best of days (with a disposition to match).

Admittedly, that wasn’t entirely unintentional. Call it passive-aggressive if you will, it-

Well, it was just passive-aggressive, mostly. Freak the locals out enough and the Ninth won’t book half of the glorious salvation of the world on a Lady-cursed civilian bus.

“…Ma’am.” Enyo must’ve noticed the look on my face as I began to wonder how long I’d have to hold one of my wheels against the floor to saw through it. “We’re passing the tower.” I glanced to her, and she gently tapped the window with her finger.

Midori - kafkaesque.jpg

She started to go on about it, but honestly, it went rather over my head. I nodded as she talked, something about a world monument project, and Mitakihara as the pinnacle of humanity’s cultural achievements. They’d tried to replicate a lot of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, but…even when I tried to appreciate it, something just seemed wrong.

Maybe it was the air, or stale candy from the flight, but the sour taste in my mouth seemed to overwhelm everything else, even the glittering parade of landmarks that we’d passed by. It was probably the dying bit, actually, or the look on Enyo’s face.

She hadn’t been home in years, I dimly realized. She hadn’t been home for years, and it was for this. Probably all she could do not to cry.

“Oi,” I interrupted her, nudging her side. “D’you wanna visit your family while we’re here? I won’t tell the High Marshal, she’s got her head up her arse today anyway.”

The look she gave me was priceless, a mix of tired surprise and a pinch of anger, chased away by her usual cool, sulky expression.

“I have already thought about it, and I have no intention to. …Noriko isn’t a strong girl, High Marshal. She doesn’t need to know about any of this, least of all see me when I’m about to die.”

“And the…others?” I added quietly, busying myself with what was left of the two bags of rather squished macarons I’d prepared for the trip.

Bugger. This was probably a metaphor for something. A macaron, sat on and crushed, squeezed between ebon-black talons and eaten by a dead woman. A bit chewy and unsatisfying. If I knew what Kafkaesque meant, this would probably be it. I chewed in silence before awkwardly offering the bag toward her. She didn’t take any.

“…I would rather be allowed to at least pretend I’m going to die a hero.” I winced at that and swallowed.

“I’m getting a bit sick of that ‘oh, poor me, I’m going to die’ thing. D’y’know, El hissed at me until I promised to bring you back alive. It was almost like she had feelings for a second, there. Scared the piss out of me, sure as anything. Do you think I’m going to go back there and tell her I couldn’t save you?” I narrowed my eyes, hardened my stare. No doubt the half-purged remains of a slain dessert pinched between my claws only strengthened the image of deadly seriousness I was projecting.

“No. I think we’re both going to die, Ma’am,” she mumbled coolly, like it was a sodding option.

“Would you call me an oathbreaker, then, Marshal? A liar?”

“…No, Ma’am.” She cracked the tiniest hint of a smile.

“Damn right. I expect you, the Princess, and Callahan back, at least. Somebody needs to tame that woman.” It hurt just a bit. El…well, El was complicated. Not something I wanted to think about right then, and certainly not something I wanted to bring up with Enyo in any kind of depth.

“Ma’am. Yes, Ma’am.”

A quiet giggle, barely audible over the sound of the bus under us (and the gentle whirr as I idly spun my wheels) grabbed Enyo’s attention and mine, and we both sniggered along with it. Callahan was sitting across from us, faceplate raised as she nursed a thermos of lukewarm tea. She looked like hell warmed over – ashen-gray skin with faded, mint-colored hair flowing from the back of her helmet - which by her standards was rather good, actually.

No hint of fear, of course, or remorse. Vivian was older than the rest of us put together, there was really no denying it – she was an old, haggard veteran when I enrolled, she had been an old, haggard veteran when High Marshal Erebus was still with us, and not even the Librarians seemed entirely sure when she’d contracted. She’d seen a thousand witches come and go and more than her fair share of Walpurgisnachts, or so they said.

Met her husband once – nice gent, looked like a dead man walking, same as her. Must have been ninety or so, and he had the most glorious moustache-

Right, no. I’m not going to spend the last few hours of my bloody life thinking about moustaches. Amazing what comes to mind, though, isn’t it?

“Ah, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she chirped in her quiet, raspy way. “It’s just…I’m happy you can hold your chin up through this, High Marshal. Not many women in our position can.” It was a little hard to buy from someone who had been all smiles for the entire time I had known her, but one doesn’t complain. “I couldn’t, to be honest. When all I needed to worry about was myself, sure, but never when I had to lead.”

“Her stubborn refusal to understand the gravity of a situation was always one of the High Marshal’s strong points.” Enyo smirked over at me. I kicked her in the ankle with a wheel, letting it spark off her armor with a momentary screech.


Three hours before our appointed time of death, it was unreasonably crowded. The Ninth in all their shortsighted, skinflint glory had made no particular amount of room for the Templars in their Officio, not even for a few short hours, and the lot of us were already tired and restless. Even Enyo was starting to show her irritation, and a small group – O’Connell, Sinclair, Avery, and (of course) Trinity – seemed to be doing their level best to hate the entire country out of existence.

Callahan remarked that when she joined the Templars, they called that sort of attitude ‘initiative’. I wish I could say she was joking, of course, but I spent most of my time as a trainee in a bunk with ‘MY ARMOR IS CONTEMPT. MY SWORD IS HATRED’ gouged into the ceiling, and after a while, it only bothered me because they skipped a bit of the mantra. I suppose whoever did it just didn’t use a shield.

As exasperating as it was to have some of the fine women under me behaving like children, though, the worst was easily the Princess. Which was no particular surprise.

Mordred was fairly new to the Templars – she’d barely seen ten grief seeds, and most of her training was still theoretical. Fresh out of the abbey, just like her sister was the first time we’d met, only ten times worse; Arty was stuck up – IS stuck up – and had a steel rod up her arse twice the size of her sword, but she had the aura of a ruler. She was someone you could respect, even then, someone with a certain noble bearing. Supposedly, every Pendragon was like that in some way or another; Arty carried herself like a hero, Nero’s love for the people that followed her was boundless if a bit inscrutable, and Mordred…

…I hadn’t quite figured Mordred out yet.

She was violent, at least. Had a bit of a sister complex, I think; she was the sort of recruit you’d have trouble with no matter what you did with her, and it was made all the worse by her family’s blood and the expectations it set for her. The little brat had been pouting furiously since we’d settled in, and had begun pacing as of a few minutes ago, grumbling about the grave insult to our station and Officio, as if that were any sort of concern right now.

“Princess,” Enyo let out a low grumble. “Sit down. Please.” Of course, she picked up on it before I said anything – if anyone could tell when I was about to snap, it was Enyo.

“Marshal, surely you don’t intend to defend these blaggards? Ordinarily we’d be chomping at the bit to execute-“

“Princess.” Sharper, now. …Ah, I knew what was coming next. She turned her gaze to me instead.

“High Marshal,” the Princess barked with just the slightest whine in her voice. “Surely you don’t endorse submitting to these heretics?”

Vividly, I recalled a scene from my own days as a cadet – Arty had said the same thing to High Marshal Erebus once, just once. Near verbatim, with nearly the same tone. The High Marshal backhanded her so hard that the High Inquisitor received a call from Rome just a few minutes later, with the Empress complaining of a migraine. I still think of it now and again.

I’d never tell Arty, of course, but sometimes that thought gets me through the day.

“High Marshal? You agree with me, don’t you?” She really had no idea. I’ve always caught hell for my, ah, questionable sense of gravitas, but Mordred was really, truly ignorant of the situation. I opened my mouth to snap at her, then thought better of it. It couldn’t be helped.

“I’ve already begun composing my letter of complaint, Pendragon. I shall send it the moment we return home from our certain demise.” I reached up to rub my temple with my knuckles, curling the claws of my gauntlet away from my head. Headaches were not typically a problem for me, but once in a while…

“With all due respect-“

“Ah! Since you’re so keen on the subject, do you have any recommendations as to which perfume we ought to spritz it with? Would you like me to use your signet ring for the wax seal?”

Silence. I admit, my self-control may have lapsed a bit.

“How about we send them a dildo with which to fuck themselves? Sounds like a good time, eh? Eh?” No response, just a silence rapidly building into a cold anger. “No? No to the dildo?”

“Ma’am.” Enyo nudged my side, and I relented with a sigh.

“…Everyone’s tempers are running high, Pendragon. I understand you’re frustrated, and none of us are going to argue that this isn’t an insult, given we’re about to put our lives on the line to protect the Ninth’s Culexus unit, but you are not helping. For that matter, neither am I. Now is not the time to put our pride before the mission.”

“Ma’am.” The fury in Mordred’s eyes didn’t relent even a bit.

“Those of us who return home can report, and the King and the High Inquisitor can sort out how to deal with this relations disaster. But this is not the time, Pendragon. This is the literal opposite of the time. For the time being, we’re going to bite the bullet, smile to the Ninth’s Culexus when we meet them, and kill ourselves a giant damned witch.”

“Ma’am,” she seethed as she sat back down. Pouted just like her big sisters, only not quite as cute.


Two hours before our appointed time of death, we met with Lady Malal, leaving Callahan in charge in our absence. Left her my card, too, with the quiet recommendation she order pizza, or ice cream, or something to get everyone out of their own heads. Not a luxury Marshal Karasawa and I could afford, nice as it would have been, and she wasn’t too keen on letting me see her sister, either.

Shame, I’d heard she was a looker. But I wasn’t going to press it, not now. Maybe that would be what I’d do if I made it back: sleep with Enyo’s sister. Good a reason to come back as any, right? March off to war, and fight all the harder to return to your girl back home. That you hadn’t met yet.

I worried then that I’d started to crack. …Really, the whole time, I’d been trying to think of everything but Walpurgisnacht. It was what it was: a horrible, grim, cackling reality that was going to claim the lives of fifty-four brave women today, bare minimum. I should have let them stay. I should have forced them to stay. If we were already destined to die, it ought to have been me and Enyo, and that ought to have been enough. And it wasn’t, and it was all I could do not to scream.

…Dame von Seckendorff, please, please protect these brave, stupid girls. I don’t know if I can, and Erebus’s bloody Lady surely won’t. Please let some of them go home alive. Just one would be enough.

“…She’s here.” Enyo stiffened up next to me, and I followed suit, locking my wheels in a practiced but precarious balance as Lady Malal marched toward us in long, hurried strides.

…Just one. Please.