With my hands braced on my knees I thought maybe I was going to keel over. It wasn’t normal to feel so winded, my breath wheezed in and out laboring to keep up with the demands of my lungs. Black spots popped up in front of my eyes and for a moment I thought perhaps I was once again just an Asperian, no longer the strong battle ready Praetorian I had spent more than half my life training to be.
What’s wrong with me? My heart rate was erratic and unsteady, my intake of oxygen was minimal as I blew out a steady stream of steamed air. It was cold, the mist had fallen over Charlie Town and I felt surrounded by a blanket of bitterness. I focused on my breathe, my pounding heart, and coasted them back to a normal level. Finally, I was able to lift my head and assess my surroundings. It wasn’t much better than what I had been looking at while desperate for air looking at the rock riddled ground beneath my feet. I shuddered as I took in the decimation and crippled remnants of Charlie Town before me.
Fire belched from every building. Once a strong hold of sturdy planked wooden homes was now a blazing torch filling the night sky with smoke and ash. My stomach turned over as I began to notice the carnage of bodies strewn across the grounds. A mother huddled over her children their bodies a wild canvas of red and splotches of dirtied brown. Worse was a young couple, hands grasped in their final moments of life, heads turned toward each other with the remnants of tears still fresh on their cheeks.
“No,” I said stubbornly, “It wasn’t her. She couldn’t have done this Vee.”
I shook my head feeling a dizzying sickness take hold. My Camille, the love of my life, she would never do this.
“I saw her Leo,” Vesyon replied as he too shook his head at the obliterated town. “It was her, but at the same time it wasn’t her at all.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in a stilted tone.
“It was her; her body, her face, her voice. But it also wasn’t her at all. Her eyes were red and her skin was fully turned black. It’s like the Praetorian Venom took over and it spread throughout her entire body.”
I shook my head again in disbelief. I had just seen her that morning. We woke up together in the warmth of our bed at White Wall. Nothing had been wrong, nothing that I noticed at least. I couldn’t help but think of her face, the brilliant green of her eyes and the way the fiery red curls would fall over her face when ever they practiced sword play. I could almost feel the soft gentle curve of her lips pressed against mine as I stood in the growing horror of what Vesyon was telling me.
“You said she’s gone, what do you mean?”
Vesyon nodded slowly, slipping his own sword back in it’s scabbard on his belt.
“Metus, he took her.”
“What?!” I yelled without restraint. “The King Regent? Why would he take her? Where did he take her?”
“I don’t have any answers for you Leo, I’m sorry. But she’s gone. From what it looks like she won’t be coming back.”
My body started to slip back into the panic I had felt the entire two sun cycles it had taken me to horse ride from White Wall to Charlie Town. Vesyon’s words were loud and clear. First Jesabelle, her mother, had disappeared, now Camille? It was no coincidence.
“What do we do now?” I said still shaken with worry.
“We do what we were bred to do,” Vesyon said with a final glance over his shoulder at the burning remnants of Charlie Town where Jesabelle had been stationed as Praetorian Protector. “We fight back.”
— Theo Shaehy