The door to Hero’s cell creaks open. Lilyth stands in the doorway in front of him. “Ahh Herodion… How are you feeling?”
The seneschal lies on stomach, face buried in his arms. The position, while practical for his injuries, lends him a juvenile appearance. He does not move from his bunk, but instead delivers a muffled reply into his pillow. “Oh, I don’t know, Lilyth, my dear. I think I’ll be ready to become a guardsman any day now.”
Lilyth steps into the cell and sets down her equipment. With deft expertise, she begins treating Hero’s lash wounds, applying an actual soothing balm instead of the normal liberal application of slightly caustic disinfectant. “Isn’t sarcasm what got you into this mess?” She chides. “Really now, I am just trying to help.”
Hero fails to conceal a wince at her touch. “No. It wasn’t.” he responds defiantly. He pauses, waiting for her to respond. When she does not reply, he continues, “It was a difference of… opinion. One which I unfortunately lost." He raising himself slightly on his elbows, so as to speak more clearly, “Though I do appreciate the effort.”
Finally, Lilyth responds, “I’ve seen plenty of officers like you. Headstrong, indolent whelps commissioned based on their family station…” she begins, injecting painkillers. “But they don’t have what you have and they never could.”
“Oh, and what’s that?” Though appreciative of the medical attention, Hero is in no mood to indulge her. The angry wounds on his back are too fresh, the loss of freedom all-too-tangible in the cell, for him to suffer another lecture. “A lovely cell for one?”
“Hah!” Lilyth’s laughter sounds muffled and out of place in the small cell. “No. Most of them were on the pupil’s end of a lash a time or two. Spent time in the brig.”
Though the pain obviously begins to subside, Hero remains tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He cranes his neck to respond. Only then does he notice that Lilyth does not have her usual attire. Instead, she wears a simple medical uniform and no face covering, revealing the extensive burns and scarring covering much of the left side of her face and skull. “Herodion,” she continues, “They never… earned… anything.” Stony silence greets her. “They always had things given to them, including their hard lessons.”
“I’d rather pass on the hard lessons, if it’s all the same. They aren’t very pleasant. And I’m afraid the decor lacks a certain je ne sais quoi,” he returns laconically, gesturing to the cell.
“Hard lessons are never pleasant…” Lilyth trails off, lost in an unsettling thousand yard stare, “But they are always a gift from the Emperor, to make us stronger.”
Hero pulls himself to a sitting position, and tries not to stare overlong at the scarred face in front of him. Opting instead to stare mostly into his lap and pick at the lint of his pajamas. “I’m not sure injury, intentional or otherwise, is the most intelligent method of doing so.”
“I am a man/ Prone to weakness/ But I am a Guardsman/ Where weakness is death/ I will crush my weakness/ With the weight of my pride” she recites for him. “Insubordination is normally met with a bolt round to the back of the skull. A breakdown of the chain of command can mean not only your death but the deaths of your comrades. Putting others lives in danger is one of the most heinous sins. The Lord Captain knew you were not raised in the Guard, did not have this instilled in you and chose to be merciful.”
Flatly, he responds, "I’m not a guardsman, Lilyth. And I wasn’t insubordinate. I did precisely what he asked. It simply wasn’t what he was expecting.”
Lilyth looks Hero straight in the eyes with an unnerving intensity, “When you took that oath you became one.”
“No, I did not.” He shoots back. “I became bound to him as his seneschal. Nothing more, nothing less. The only difference is… Well, let’s never mind that. I don’t need to upset the entire command crew this week.”
“We are all bound thralls in service to the Emperor. We live and die as he sees fit for the greater glory of Mankind. If you are too stubborn to accept the great honor that the Lord Captain has bestowed upon you or the offering of camaraderie… then perhaps the Emperor has need of your presence sooner than I thought.” And with that she gets up.
As she is leaving Hero half-shouts after her “Lilyth!” Lilyth stops at the door, without turning around. “I apologize if I’ve offended you, as well.” He sighs. “I am feeling much better. You have my gratitude.”
“I am not offended. I am saddened. This is an opportunity for you to EARN something for yourself. To EARN… respect. Faith in the Emperor will always provide, do not squander his gifts.” She reaches into a pocket and tosses Hero a small bottle of pills. “Take two when the pain returns, and two more every six hours after.”
He looks at her in surprise. “Thank you.” Setting the bottle on the beside table he once again finds a seat on the bed. The exhaustion is apparent in his voice when he quietly continues. “It’s a lot to take in in a week, you know. Not just Kavik, but Victrix, she tried to kill me, Lilyth. She tried to kill me.”
“But she didn’t, did she…? Do you think that is because she is losing her edge, like a poorly maintained sword?” Lilyth gives a half smile and slips out, closing the door behind her.