Meredith and the Radiant Sword

CW: Fantasy Violence, Self-Harm References

Meredith woke up and opened their eyes to the world. Perhaps a day like any other, as the morning sun streamed into the tent. Yet today, there was tension in the air. A storm waiting to break.

Meredith turned in her bed and put her feet on the floor. She rose to the basin and called her foot servant to retrieve a pitcher of water. She stared at the looking glass, trying to put her face back into an arrangement that did not look entirely like a scowl. She was rarely successful at this ritual and today was no different. Perhaps it was better this way for what lay ahead.

By the time Beatrice arrived with the water, Meredith had pulled up her hair and taken off her undergarments. She washed the night’s sweat and dirt away along with the morning fog of troubled sleep. Meredith started to put on her binding, taking care to wrap properly, then put on her undercloth, and then her tabard. It was emblazoned with a shining sword. She prepared to don her armor, an heirloom passed down between warriors in her family since her great grandfather. Meredith had to have the armor smithed to size and now she could move as agile as a jungle cat climbing a tree. She was strong, and remembered having a childhood fighting and proving her worth among the other officers’ children. As the daughter of the Lord Commander, she was not going to be shoved around by boys that couldn’t piss without staining their pants. Meredith looked again in the glass, armored. Invulnerable.

The tent flap rustled in the wind as Meredith exited her quarters. Battle was nigh and troops were mustering in the crisp morning. The parade grounds were filling and Meredith marched to the front of the column, her boots squelching in the mud. She approached the small armored man in the front. Casual observers would underestimate him because of his stature, but Quintus was a strategist and more clever by half than anyone in her unit.

“Good morning, Commander. The steely look in our eyes tells me we’re ready to rouse some rabble.”

“The morning of battle is not for trifles, Quintus. Call muster and take role.”

“Yessir! Attenhut! Sound off like you’ve seen the beast!” Quintus shouted the troops to life as they pulled themselves to attention and began to sound off by unit.

When the Golden Dragons of the Radiant Sword finished their role, Meredith took to the front of the soldiers to address her companies.

“We all knew this day would come. This battalion has been stationed here as a last defense for this sector. If we fall, then the people of Miterre fall as well. You soldiers have chosen to follow the Radiant Sword. With their strength in our hands, we will defend this city!”

She was met with a resounding “Hura!” and a smash of swords on shield and spears on the sodden earth. It had rained the night before and Meredith was not excited for a battle where unsure footing was going to be a constant obstacle.

Quintus regarded his commander. She remained extraordinary after years of service, yet transformed by the everyday acts of monstrosity perpetuated by the demonic hosts. Her face was etched by the scars of countless battles. The commander had also distinguished herself as a Canter, someone who memorized and wielded the ancient prayers of power to assist their holy war. She had long been a commander in the Radiant Sword, an order of holy warriors that held the line at the Brink, where the world of the demons met our own. The Sword held forward outposts along the wasteland that was the Brink. The Commander had seen the front and then some. She regularly volunteered for rescue missions and for ritual cleanses. There was even a rumor that she had seen the Flagellant, a grim evil, and lived to talk about it.

But here was different. The influence of the Brink had expanded; border towns and cities were constantly in danger. Demons were finding their way into communities. Ear worms and tempters were often the first signs of trouble and if you weren’t lucky enough to catch those early, a town could be overrun once an individual demon had gotten a foothold, serving as a beacon to others. Luckily, the Sword had noticed distress in this town. Some adventurers had reported a possession incident near the capital city of one of the provinces that lay along the Brink’s path and Meredith characteristically volunteered the battalion to answer the call. The possession had been exorcised and now the troops awaited the wave of demons that would follow.

The companies were arranged along makeshift embankments they had created, spending the little time they had after arriving and making camp only the week before to create rudimentary defenses along the rift that had started to form. Now, the space between worlds shimmered, and the rift broke open. They tensed their grips upon their weapons, as the Brink spewed forth demons into the material world. They slithered and crawled, fast for their size.

Meredith held her breath. Slowly, she let the breath out as she drew her sword from her scabbard. A few words uttered over the blade and it glowed from an inner light; she could hear the rest of the company echo her and the battle line hummed with brilliance. Meredith entered the place behind her eyes and as the battle was upon them, she could feel her body take over. The creatures slammed into the shield wall, spears impaling their front line, the feet of the soldiers sliding but not faltering in the mud. Her sword rose and fell, meeting teeth and claw. Meredith was numb to the carnage around her. Blood splashed her face. The sword rose and fell, her training and focus taking over. The demons were slashed from gut to gullet by the brightly lit blades of the Radiant Sword.

Meredith began to sing in a clarion voice. A prayer for battle and courage. Those around her who could hear the song rebounded and roared, forcing back the wall of embodied evil. And so the day went.

When the fighting was over, the battalion had lost almost half a regiment of soldiers to the onslaught, but the wave was defeated.

As the troops carried their wounded and dead off the field and others delivered finishing strikes to fallen enemy wounded that assured the demons’ deaths, Meredith retired to her command tent, bringing Quintus along. Beatrice was waiting with a message.

“The legates are gathering this evening. They are deciding on a matter being brought forward by Legate Spazzo.”

There were the demons that you could slay with sword and spear. And then there were bureaucrats, an evil that Meredith would not wish upon her worst enemies. The bureaucrats were a corruption that not even Meredith would volunteer to defeat.

She preferred the demons.

“What evils have the policy makers created now?”

“They state that the Sword cannot recruit members of fae origin. That their blood betrays them to the cause of xenos hunting.”

Meredith looked at Quintus. Her first officer was of fae descent, hence his smaller stature, and she was fiercely loyal to him, as he was to her. Though they had walked separate journeys to end up here together, they both respected the paths forward each had carved out of the chaos. She would go to the lawmakers’ session as an emissary of the Radiant Sword. As a Canter, her words carried the weight of the order.

Meredith decided she would go and speak to the council, “They cannot deny my voice at the council, and though I am loathe to go, you are a dear friend Quintus and I will not abandon you now.”

Beatrice closed the tent as they made their plans.

The camp was built at the edge of the capitol city and the haste and rough hewn qualities of the defensive battlements were contrasted with the sleek, hard edged buildings of the capital. Built with a paste of rocks and sand that the engineers had invented long ago, the buildings had a severe austerity to them that led some to describe them as brutal. As Meredith and her retinue approached the center of the city, the capitol building stood out from the surrounding structure as monolithic, huge and with a smooth façade that tapered near the top. She and her soldiers did not lose their stride as they entered the immense structure and found their way to the public hearing chambers.

The gray robed legates gathered in the chambers. Dark gray walls with smooth faces and sharp edges enclosed the lawmakers. Each had a seat at the slab table that wrapped around the room. They walked through a great arched doorway that led into the private council chambers where they deliberated away from the public eye.

There was art above the doorway: allegorical figures arranged at a table, opposed by another table seated by demonic figures. Justice sat at the head of the first surrounded by other Virtues, and she was bound before the table of the other by Tyranny and his Vices. The meaning was lost on some of the members of the council, barely aware of the piece or its charge to the council that walked beneath the portal: decide cases with justice and virtue or be agents of tyranny against the people.

As they filed in through the clean edged doorway, Meredith took her place in the middle of the room. She watched as Legate Spazzo made his way to the head of the table, smiling as he walked. Tyranny would have been envious. Meredith wondered if the allegory was lost on Spazzo, or if he understood fully and willfully supported the vices of tyranny.

This was not the first time they had met in these chambers to spar. Meredith doubted this engagement would be the last.

As they sat, she laid into them. “I have heard that you are here to make case against those with the blood of the fae.”

Legate Spazzo did not miss his opportunity to parry, “If you are referring to the law against making ourselves vulnerable to potential demonic influence, that those with fae ancestry are more likely to be swayed to the cause of demons, I am unsure why you are so frothily poised against it?”

Meredith was ready for Spazzo to try to turn the argument against her and had come prepared to confront the issues. “While the Order of the Radiant Sword does not speak of such things lightly, we have lost many of our front-line fighters to the influence of demons, but it is not their blood that is to blame, nor some sort of failure of strength. Some of our strongest have fallen or been turned. And yet still we plug the gaps and sometimes even have to bear arms against our turned brethren, a deed which no soldier of the Radiant Sword will brag about.

“You have never known the weight of a sword, you have never faced the demons. I am not saying you legates are cowards, but I doubt you have never known the fear I speak of, that must truly be tested against the weight of your courage. Quintus, and many other fae officers and soldiers alike, have. They have seen their warriors-in-arms be slain in front of them, either through combat with these demons or through the neglect or over attention of councils such as yours.”

“Enough of this speech,” interrupted Spazzo shakily. “You are not permitted to speak in these chambers or make case against us.”

“I am! By my station as a Canter of the Radiant Sword I have permission to speak and your objections over my voice only serve to give it strength as your voice quivers and quibbles. You would dare dictate what their bodies can do when you have no intention of making the sacrifice that they do? I change my mind. I do call you cowards!”

“It is clear that your words come from a place of passion Cantor Meredith. You have robbed us of our bravery and our position of power with your cutting words. But I ask you this: How many of your fae brethren have fallen to the demons? How many have become slaves to the whims of evil? How many of them have your order had to track down and cleanse?”

“Too many, I’ll admit, my Lord. But it is a sad day when any of our order fall to the demons, fae and human alike. And whether they fall dead or demented, they attend to their duties until such a time. They share their stories and songs by the hearth. They love fiercely and open their hearts to connection and kindness. And they raise their blades to the Radiant Sword in an attempt to cleanse this world of the demons that are set against us. A charge that I once again make against this council. You are those that rule upon our lives without knowing what that life truly entails. I think about how often I have lain my friends in the ground, friends of all races and origins. They have stood before the horde and drawn their blades. They have sacrificed while you hide in your chambers of law!”

Legate Spazzo smiled, looking magnanimous and smug, “That is twice that you have impugned upon our honor. I for one wish for an opportunity to answer to the claim. Do you expect another wave soon?”

Meredith stood tall, “No. The wave was fierce today but we put it down. We have purged the possession from this town and without an anchor to lure the creatures here, the waves will dissipate.”

The door at the far end of the chamber behind Meredith clamored open. A messenger from the front, their rank showed as left tenant. They were out of breath but managed to huff out, “The alarm fires . . . have been lit . . .. Demons . . . from the Brink . . . have amassed again.”

Legate Spazzo did not miss the moment to seize upon the dramatic irony, “You see my fellow lawmakers, Canter Meredith speaks without knowing. She has only her tricks of speech to try to guilt us into passing the laws that suit her and her war. I say not only should we strike her words from the record as calumny, but also answer her challenge to bear arms against this threat. In putting sword to these shadows, we will expose her for the warmonger she is, stoking the furnaces of war for her own purposes!”

Jeers and laughter rose from the crowd of lawmakers as Spazzo made a big show of his arms heaping imaginary coal into a stove. Meredith felt she was losing this battle and had to save face. “Very well, Legate. Beatrice! Get the legate a sword.”

Spazzo replied, “No thanks, Canter. I have my own. I shall meet you on the lines with my retinue,” motioning to the assemblage of legates in turn.

Meredith had hurried out of the council chambers and met Beatrice to prepare for a second wave. Where had these evils come from? Meredith had overseen the exorcism herself and had called out the soldier demon that was serving as a beacon. If more demons had appeared here, the initial possession was intended to distract from a second. She did not have time to consider. The wave was approaching and her sword was barely clean from the last one.

The gray robed legates had diminished in number by half, but those that arrived had matching armor with the crest of the state, two eagles opposed rearing up and on guard in a field of argent. They were named Power and Nobility, and as the sun set and flashed off their armor, Meredith was almost tricked into believing the words. Legate Spazzo was at the head of the short column, though, and the words shifted their meaning.

The legates arranged themselves on the line. Some looked confident, some looked competent, only Spazzo looked both. His sword, from the hilt of it, looked plain and worn. He found a place near Meredith. The legate smiled again, smug and telling, “Is this the smell of battle that is so alluring to you Commander? I can see why you choose to fight.”

Meredith sneered as the battle horns sounded behind her. The wave was approaching the rift. “You will not be so self-satisfied when your blade is tested.”

Spazzo smiled cheerfully at the Canter. He patted his blade as she unsheathed hers. The words of magic brought forth the characteristic brilliance of her order. The battalion alongside her did the same and the field, littered with the corpses of demons from the day’s earlier wave, was lit with an ethereal glow. Fog had started to lift off the ground as warm winds blew over the cold, sodden earth and the low clouds carried the aura of the blades even further.

The demons broke free of the rift and the regiments braced for impact. Meredith again began to calm her breath as she had been taught. As she did, she noticed that Spazzo had not yet stopped looking and smiling at her. His gaze had become unnerving as the demon horde approached and she turned to look him in the eyes. She saw something them that she could read now that the battlemind was upon her. The dull emptiness in Spazzo’s eyes was masking a dark hunger behind the blank expression.

Too late to prevent his betrayal but seeing now the possession hidden within him, Meredith started to sing. Legate Spazzo drew his sword, the well-worn grip giving way to a dark blade, an unholy weapon to stand counter to the light of the Radiant Sword. As he drew it high, the demons hit the wall of soldiers, and a bolt of lightning struck the blade, splitting into multiple bolts hitting the other legates in the brow. To their credit, all were surprised at the sudden reversal. The surprise on their faces did not last long as the flesh bubbled with tumorous growth, each exploding into monstrous creatures in service to the demon possessing Spazzo.

Meredith did not have time to send signal to Quintus, who was commanding the flank. She would have to hold this breach herself with the aid of her company. Meredith found her footing and push forward toward the first of the legate fiends and cut deep into the mass of flesh. Even ripped in twain the monster fought on until another soldier’s swing brought the creature down. Working together, the company tore into the monsters.

One of the brutes cracked open a maw where his chest had been and grabbing one of the soldiers of the Sword, slammed them into its toothy torso, breaking their body in half as they took a bite from the center. These creatures were a match for Meredith’s best soldiers but the company did not shy away from the challenge and even in the face of horrors, advanced upon the central Spazzo, whose arm had started to grow veiny with black tendrils that had latched onto him from the demonic sword.

As she helped cut down another tumorous fiend, Meredith raised her voice in clarion call, “Begone, Evil!”

Spazzo turned to the Commander, “You are the evil in this world. You and your fairy friends! You make our armies weak with your subversive blood!”

With vitriol spewing forth from his mouth, he succumbed to the influence that was riding him. His muscles began to bulge beyond the bounds of normal human anatomy. His arms spread wide as the spasms pulled them taught. Another pair of black arms made of coiled tendrils spurted forth from his abdomen which was lengthening. He grew two feet taller and his cloths ripped apart with the sudden transfigurations. His lower jaw detached and his slavering tongue, covered in rough spikes, lolled from his mouth inattentively, his teeth wrenched into a sickly, exaggerated smile. No longer was he the aged legate that Meredith had sparred with. Instead, a monstrosity, this echo of humanity, twisted in mockery. A sick and labored laughter filled the air.

Spazzo’s voice, now distorted with unholy energies spat words into the air. “I am the Purifier. I shall cleanse you from this world!”

Meredith watched as the legate changed. Spazzo had grown monstruous, filled with the demonic influence that was taking hold of him. Meredith had seen this change before, when a possession had turned into a gateway, and knew the fight was about to get under way.

“Attack!” cried Meredith as she leapt into action. The demon did the same, swiping out on of its four burly arms.

The Radiant Sword defenders rushed in, shields high and swords at the ready. Ever cautious, they circled the creature, tightening around it. With a cyclone of energy, the demon twisted, all four arms flaying wide. Those that were not knocked over struck out with their swords but the tough demonic skin turned the blades harmlessly away.

Like an animal, the Demon Spazzo leapt onto one of the fallen soldiers, ripping at his armor with claws and teeth.

Meredith started to act. The only way to defeat corruption this deep was to speak Words of Truth, handed down from the Radiant Sword itself.

She started to chant in a language far older than the stars of night. Though none exist that can translate anymore, the words were copied in the monasteries of the Sword for generations and record kept of the intonations. Though they could not understand them anymore, the monks knew they were the words of Creation itself and passed on the knowledge to only the most worthy of Canters.

Meredith was worthy of the Truth.

Such form and substance was too much for the demons, who thrived on the chaos of worlds. Creation brought order to the chaos, and Meredith spoke Creation into being. The legate fiends that remained clutched at the heads, tore at their faces, trying to stop the sound that was harmonizing within their minds. Spazzo, the Purifier, too tried to extinguish the tones from his head, pulling and stretching his face into a target before plunging the fused sword into his temple. Light filled the space as Meredith raised his voice with the final inflections, and the strained fiends began to smoke from their eyes and ears before falling to the ground.

Spazzo lay dead at her feet, the wounded and dead strewn about. Meredith began a healing prayer for the defenders that were still standing. The ritual would take some time, she needed to focus and had to complete the task uninterrupted.

She wasn’t even halfway finished when she heard the sounds. The standing members of the unit roused and gathered themselves for what lay next. Something was making a rhythmic noise that was heading toward them. The slow tempo was composed of a stout, fleshy clap, followed by squelching discharge, repeated nauseatingly. The profane echoes made some of the Sword queasy and Meredith could hear retching beside her.

The rhythm started in the distance. The moist cadence was slow but regular as it grew closer. Meredith could feel her veins run cold and the prayer stopped in her throat. She did not have to turn to see the creature. She knew this sound. She knew it well and it still haunted her dreams.

The Flagellant.

A once pious celestial being, who believed themself capable of defeating the demons, now tricked and perverted. The seraph was convinced by dark whispers that their confidence was arrogance, arrogance which needed to be purged through severe repentance. The host was provided a scourge to purge itself of corruption, and a hood to hide its shame from the gods, and then was released to wander the wasteland where their sadomasochism found fertile soil.

The demon wandered toward her group, footfall by footfall, scourge blow by scourge blow, the barbs ripping the already ripped flesh and leaving naught but gangrenous fields of lacerations, bone shown bare in some places.

Meredith had to concentrate on her prayer. She needed time.

“Form a Shield Wall!” she cried, averting her prayer to bark a quick order. The soldiers hopped to. But as she turned, she saw the approaching demon.

They stood over fifteen cubits tall and approached slowly, dragging a pear of anguish by a chain attached to their right leg. The left leg, starting at the shin and in bands all the way up beneath their torn breeches, wore metal cilices that dug into the flesh; dark, dried blood pocked the bony appendage. The air that preceded the Flagellant was filled with sickly sweet incense as the censer they held swung wildly, matching the tempo of their other arm, which brought a barbed flail to bear upon their own back, tearing at flesh that was little more than pulp. You could see the bones of the creature through their skin, able to count the ribs and vertebrae along their emaciated torso.

On its head, they wore two strange devices: one a capirote, pointing high into the heavens; the other, worn around the dated and stained hat, was a metal cage, a small door open where their mouth would be, if not covered with cloth from the hat.

The Flagellant had crossed over the threshold of the Brink. The Flagellant had arrived on the battlefield.

Meredith turned to face the new foe and fell to her knees, weak. The stories were true. She had survived an encounter with this demon before. There was no doubt in her mind, she could not escape the evil twice. Somehow, the abomination had found her.

The thoughts in her mind turned away from the battle, and within moments she was consumed with memories. She was at her mother’s nightstand as a child, being berated for wasting makeup. She was alone in her room, crying after another yelling match with her father. She was ashamed, having found her sexuality and knowing that her culture would look differently at her. All of these and more flooded her, as memory after memory lashed her mind with painful shame and guilt. Her eyes began to water as her mouth made silent cries for contrition.

She knew she had to prostrate herself… she knew that if she was found worthy, she could claim her flesh and purge herself of the evils within her. If only she could excise the shame, physically, she would be cleansed.

Some of the other soldiers around her, weakened from the fight with Spazzo, similarly fell to the self-mortifying influences of the Flagellant and as one, Meredith included, began to strip off their armor in the middle of the battlefield. Some found debris, others used leather thongs used to tie their armor, but all began to punish their flesh in horrifying atonement.

As Meredith started to claw at the skin on her right hand, tearing bloody scratches into herself, she remembered the face of her father, without his beard. They were both younger then, Meredith only about ten winters old and her father just new to his role as Lord Commander. They were in the training yard, as they would start every morning. It was winter and the frost was riming the practice dummies. Meredith could see her breath. Her practice sword, made of real metal, was near frozen to her hand. They had been out here for hours.

And still her father pushed her. She could see his face contorted as he yelled for her to try harder. He had a training rod with which he would correct her movements by applying a quick lash. Meredith could not afford to make a mistake today, with the ground cold and her father heated from a poor showing at the previous night’s war council.

Meredith held her breath. Slowly, she let the breath out as she drew her sword from her scabbard. Her sword rose and fell, meeting cloth and straw. Meredith was numb to the word around her and was starting to lose feeling in her limbs. The sword rose and fell, and as she circled, her foot caught a patch of ice. Before she could slip and fall all the way to the ground, her father’s rod shot out and caught her along her backside.

“Always watch your footing, Mer! These demons attack any time of the year. You lose your footing because of ice on the Brink, you lose your life! Is that what you want? To die in some frozen waste like those bastards in the 25th?”

He raised the rod again, hitting her for not getting up fast enough.

“Stop dawdling! Falling doesn’t mean you stop fighting!”

She could not feel her hands. She could not feel her face. She could not feel her legs as she stood or as her father swatted them, admonishing them for moving sluggishly.

She could not feel anything anymore. She moved in for a few more swings at the target, but they too were too slow for her father and two more flails sent her to her knees.

She didn’t cry as her father rained little stings about her. She did not feel them. By the time he burned his fire out, she was bleeding through her breeches. Yet still, she was silent. Her gaze was focused on the practice dummy, as she imagined them siblings throughout.

Her father, now ashamed, looked at her, broken, cold, silent. He knew his heart had closed itself off from the kindness. That he would not share this story at the fire. He looked at the rod in his hand and broke it. He picked up Meredith and brought her inside. He changed her bloody clothes and wrapped her wounds. He put some food in front of her but Meredith had lost interest in much of the world around her.

And then he left. Meredith sat there at the wooden table on the long bench until he returned, her food untouched. He had a parcel, heavy yet small, which he unwrapped for her after she did not do so herself. Within was her first suit of armor.

He had gone out to buy her fitted armor. “No daughter of the Lord Commander could be without it,” he had told the smith. “She needs it for defense.”

The whole set was laid carefully upon a small shield.

Her father said, “These will keep you safe and prevent you from getting hurt. Good armor can save your life as much as training can. Tomorrow, we’ll start armor training to make sure you get a feel for the weight and that it’s all fitted right. I’m sure you’ll love it. You know I love you, don’t you Mer?”

Meredith looked up at her father. “Yes, father. Thank you, father.” She took the armor and the shield and, prompted, kissed her father on the cheek before going to her room. She placed the bundle down on her bedroom table. She looked at herself in the looking glass and began to cry as the day finally caught up with her in the privacy of the moment.

As she sat there crying, hating her father, hating the armor, hating the training, hating the reflection she saw, she wanted to feel the emptiness that had kept her safe all day. By accident, she squeezed her legs close to her chest, exploding in pain as the cuts reopened themselves. And with the pain and shock came the calm. She stopped short her crying and looked puzzled in the mirror. She squeezed her legs again to her chest and the wrappings became red with fresh blood.

And the emptiness that she had felt, the displacement washed over her again. She sat up straight. Looked around. And began to polish the armor. Before going to sleep, she held the shield to her bosom, praying to the Radiant Sword that she could learn how to keep herself safe to her father’s satisfaction.

And so she started training with armor. She worked with the metal plates day and night when she realized her father couldn’t hurt her with his stick. She could barely feel his blows. It made her want to learn how to wear the full plate of the dragon battalions and she would find heavier and heavier sets to train is as she got older. She learned how to sleep in armor in case she needed to wear it on the front lines. There was a short while where she never took her chainmail off and it wasn’t until the servants complained to the Lord Commander about the odor, and only by order, did she finally start to bathe again.

She also found that without her father’s wounds bringing her into the battlemind, she would have to find ways to harm herself to induce the calm state. She would bind her chest tightly, too tight. She would wear wool shirts underneath her plate. When she was older and part of the order, she would get ritual scars and tattoos before and after every battle until her body was something that told her story to those that knew how to read it.

And her father watched as she improved. She wanted to see him proud of her and so she worked harder than any other soldier. Her training blisters and calluses became marks of approval.

And now she was on the field, the Flagellant summoning these deeply internalized moments. Holding her hostage to them. Letting her see how they had controlled her. How she had only gotten trapped in a cycle of hurting herself. Punishing herself the way she deserved.

She did not deserve this. This was not her fault. She had never deserved to be hurt as a child. And somewhere, beyond where the Flagellant could reach, she remembered who she was.

The song rose up from within her, the words taking shape unbidden. The words of her truth rose up from within her and she spoke them with the language of Creation. The arm that she had been clawing at now rose up, holding her sword aloft. And light poured from her into the blade, and into the dark of the night shot a shaft of light into the heavens.

Meredith saw the Flagellant for the demon it was. As she sang, holding her sword high with one hand, she dropped her shield with the other and began to pull at her fastenings as she walked forward. She could see her fellow defenders around her, clawing and cutting at themselves slowly stopped and focused on the light, as she removed her plate piece by piece, moving forward step by step, advancing on the horror that had her cowering only moments before. She was open to express herself and move freely. Vulnerable.

The demon turned their focus to Meredith, tilting their caged head in confusion at the beam of light piercing the clouds and lighting the field. The song of Meredith’s existence was a clarion call that silenced the fighting as all held their breath. Meredith pointed the blade at the towering demon as she reached a fever pitch, her voice unwavering. The holy light cut through the evil creature, the blade ringing with vibration. The halves of the demon fell apart, and silence fell across the field. Meredith’s song, for now, was over.

“I release you from your pain and shame,” she whispered to the creature.

Her company looked about themselves from the ground. They had survived the betrayal of Spazzo. Meredith looked about the field. Quintus’ flank was closing and wrapping around the demon horde and making good progress on the other side of the field. She looked at her soldiers and held her sword aloft again.

“Come on, you devils! Falling doesn’t mean you stop fighting!”

She was met with a resounding “Ura!” as they stood and pushed back into the fray. With their Commander at their side, there was no evil they couldn’t conquer together.

The dawn was breaking, and Meredith looked about the battlefield in front of her. The day was won and the town was cleansed. Legate Spazzo showed himself to be corrupt and Meredith would see that his new law was nullified. She was sure that her unit would be awarded medals of bravery and distinction. But she didn’t feel that brave or distinct.

She turned her back on the field and entered her tent. She walked to the basin and called Beatrice to retrieve a pitcher of water. She stared at the looking glass, trying to put her face back into an arrangement that did not look entirely like a scowl. She was rarely successful at this ritual but today, amidst the soot and blood that stained her face, she saw herself and smiled.

Perhaps a day like any other, as the morning sun streamed into the tent.