"And like you, Atelier Rosenberg, I have nothing but the strongest loathing for my enemies."
In that moment, our eyes interlock and I see the hate radiating in her pale blue orbs being replaced by a momentary flash of uncertainty. She is passionate and strong-willed, all commendable traits one would expect to be found in the Crusaders, but ultimately she is a young girl and she will be subject to the same vulnerabilities that their kind normally suffers.
"You were right," she whispers abruptly, "We are kindred beings, von Kampf in that we both were hurt by each other's kindred…" Then, she adds vehemently, "But does this change anything? Do you expect me to be more understanding perhaps of your plight? To rethink my assessment of the Daim when I have spent all of my fledgling years hating them with the same intensity with which you have come to hate my kind?"
I reply with a surreal calm, "Do you think that the responsibility for this cycle of hatred is with us Daim alone? I hoped to enlighten you, given your severely one-sided education that it is not necessarily the sole fault of us Daim that the Imperium and the Church are as deadlocked in war as they are…"
"Who encroached on whose lands first?" she fires angrily, "Whose actions were in breach of the Treaty of Havan, an agreement to which all our ancestors respected?"
I smile mirthlessly. While it is true that we Daim were the first to strike down south into the heartland of the San Basamento region, the stage for war had long been set…
Both the Corinthos and the Daim were effectively freed of all restrictions upon warmongering the moment the Lady Eve disappeared from her home within the Hyvanna Keep and tensions between our two nations had long been simmering, no thanks in part to our Senate who continually pestered the throne to consolidate the Imperium's strength at its borders—a clear affront to our Corinthos and Aesir neighbors.
Rumor had then come to the General Staff that the Church had been mustering its Crusaders further south and this alarming news coupled with the Senate's insistence on toppling the Corinthos regime in the San Basamento and Gibraltar regions, both of which were famously rich with natural deposits, had prompted the Imperium to take the initiative lest the Corinthos move into the region in force, threatening the integrity of the Imperium's present borders.
"We Daim invaded your lands," I agree calmly, "But if you wish to speak of breaching the Treaty of Havan, then both of our nations were at fault there."
She seems slightly taken aback by the news so I explain to her brusquely, "We Daim and you Corinthos have long been playing a game with each other… I normally refer to it as 'Mirrors'. My Emperor may decide upon one thing and inevitably your Vizier will have to move to counteract it and vice versa."
The look she directs at me is still plaintively bemused. She really was too young to remember all this, I suppose, recalling that she mentioned she was but twelve years of age around the time when San Basamento was first sacked.
"The invasion of San Basamento was merely a strategic offensive designed to quickly obtaining defensible strongholds with which to counter the inevitable northward march of the Crusaders, who were at the time mustering in great numbers just north of your capital, Corinth," I say as I try to recall my role in the first westward march.
Eight years ago… Elias was still only a lieutenant-major then and Aldor a major, if I am not mistaken. I, on the other hand, had been stuck as a private for about three years then, my heritage denying me the opportunity for further promotion with the majority of my superiors looking upon me suspiciously given my shared heritage with the enemy.
"You lie," she said vehemently and I look at her pityingly.
"War truly began, Atelier Rosenberg, when the Lady of Havan disappeared," I say wearily. "And ever since then we Daim and you Corinthos have been playing an interesting game of chess, with different gambits being thrown in almost every single move, constantly mirroring each other as to not permit any one of us from gaining the advantage."
"You Daim were the oppressors who took our lands unlawfully and…"
"Because," I correct her, "Because we knew that once the Crusaders struck north there would be no stopping them across the plains of the Western Front."
That much was true—the Crusaders were nearly undefeatable upon flat terrain with their heavy cavalry and armor support having swamped our ranks many a time in the early days of the Western Front. We Daim may have the superior weaponry and vehicular support but a Corinthos charge on the ground is nearly invincible once it has gathered sufficient momentum. One also has to consider the fact that the majority of Daim forces are mere conscripts who are best at the art of fleeing raggedly.
In urban combat however, or from the vantage point of a fortress or rugged terrain? We neatly turn the tables on them, utilizing our long range weaponry to good effect and negating the brute strength of their Crusader vanguard. With obstructions aplenty and solid cover, we Daim can hold our positions for any amount of time so long as our discipline does not waver and our ammunition remains at healthy levels.
I reckon the Gibraltar Heights incident still rankles with the Corinthos till this day—the event already immortalized in the Imperium, when a company of my Doombringers successfully halted the advance of the Paladin-General Lazarus Eisenhower for a week from their perch atop the rocky outcrops of the region.
The distress accumulating within her is almost visible at this point—she has had eight years of blaming us Daim for everything that had gone wrong with her life only to learn now that our actions were a mere riposte to the Corinthos's own.
She is only just past adulthood. She would have not known better…
"Nevertheless, it was still you Daim that invaded our lands first!" she repeats insistently.
"And would your Corinthos have not done the same, had our situations been reversed?"
"We do not instigate wars," she begins hotly, "Our current enmity stems from the fact that you unlawfully claimed lands belonging to the Church, violating our borders and thus the sovereignty of our nation!"
"Bullshit," I say flatly. The profanity seems to startle her into silence and I continue, "You should know better than to claim that our present war is merely a tussle over territory. Our two empires have long eyed each other with suspicion, given the severe ideological and philosophical differences between our kinds. Only the Lady of Havan, the embodiment of the spirit behind the Treaty of Havan signed eons ago, gave pause to our hands from drawing weapons at each other."
"We are fighting for a righteous cause—to claim what is our rightful birthright!" Atelier hisses.
"Is it now?" I say amusedly, "I however disagree. You Corinthos despise us, calling us heretics and blasphemers and we Daim believe you to be zealous and irrational fanatics… You truly believe you are fighting a holy war to expel the Imperium from your lands? No, Atelier, at the first sign of weakness your Vizier will not hesitate in ordering a plunge towards Dai'vyaz itself."
"You really believe that once you reach your original borders you will cease your hostilities?" I remark, "If you really believed that, then you are infinitely more naïve than I would have expected."
Her eyes flash as she retorts, "We have a duty to spread the gospel."
"Well, so I can justify our incursions into your lands by stating that our intentions are to enlighten the misbegotten, those who have lived in religious terror all their lives?"
"What do you know of our people?" Atelier snarls.
"Enough," I answer simply as I narrow my eyes at her, "Enough to understand your narrow-mindedness, your intolerance of new ideas and concepts, your misbegotten beliefs that only you Corinthos are perfect and that you alone are worthy of this world we all share, your overwhelming distaste for those you perceive to be different that you would set the Inquisition upon them…"
Atelier's face grows bleak and for a moment I thought that she would launch into yet another passionate defense on the need for the Inquisitors but to my surprise, all she says is, "You claim to understand enough about us, von Kampf?"
To my bemusement, a cold smile writes itself upon her face as she hisses, "You understand nothing."
I narrow my eyes as she whispers with a heavy emphasis on the word never, "We Corinthos are zealous, perhaps to a fault but never have we deigned to be perfect beings."
She smirks briefly, "Unlike you Daim and your concept of the master race… We recognize our flaws, and indeed they are many—and so we hold ourselves in grateful devotion to the Halar who is willing to accept us regardless. We try our best certainly, but we are not the Halar—we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we are impatient, we even take up His name at times to commit deeds that He has never espoused in his gospel…"
Oh? That is intriguing… I had always thought the Corinthos to consider themselves the perfect model of humanity with their religion, not altogether unlike us Daim—though in our case we simply believed that it was our mandate to enlighten the homme and in that direction we must take leadership of all others—and to hear Atelier claiming that they more than acknowledged their weaknesses…
"Even your Vizier?" I ask mockingly. Now, on this I am certain that the Corinthos would sooner die than blaspheme against...
"Say what?" I ask incredulously. A Corinthos actually agreeing to the notion that the Vizier is equally culpable as a normal homme?
"The Vizier is still but a man—while we believe him to be the closest to the Halar, His anointed prophet and leader of us Corinthos, he nevertheless remains fallible because of his mortal wisdom."
"But you revere him as if he was akin to the Halar himself," I point out, "Blasphemy against the Vizier is a capital crime in the Church, which your words to me could be easily taken as."
She frowns briefly before replying, "We do not revere the Vizier as if he were the Halar, we revere him because he is the anointed of the Halar; the one who is charged with leading us Corinthos. And my words were not blasphemy, von Kampf. To blaspheme against the Vizier would involve disavowing his mandate from the Halar or plotting treachery against him—establishing that he is but a mere mortal is merely stating an irrefutable fact."
"Your laws state that he is irremovable unless he loses the mandate of the Halar or till the day he ascends to your heaven," I state, ignoring her look of surprise. Elias had always maintained that understanding the enemy is half of the battle and he made it compulsory for his generals to study Corinthos lore and legislation, and as a result I am fairly acquainted with Corinthos tradition.
Atelier nods in agreement and I then decide to press her, "So, how does one lose the Halar's mandate? When he makes numerous mistakes costly to the Church? Or does a light from heaven descend and denounce him as the Halar's chosen one?"
She glares at my sarcasm and promptly answers, "That is between him and the Halar."
That did not make sense.
Atelier must have noticed my befuddled explanation as she explains, "The Vizier who has lost the Halar's mandate usually resigns with immediate notice. It is customary."
"You have to wait for him to resign? There is no method of forcibly evicting him? Then what if he decides not to do so and chooses to cling on to the vestiges of his power?" I ask incredulously. In the Imperium, if the Emperor were ever to suffer a spate of terrible decision-making the Senate would simply cease to ratify his decisions and petition to the Noble Houses for his removal.
Baring that, the Noble Houses might already have moved to remove an incompetent Emperor from the throne on the grounds of embarrassing their proud and ancient heritage, given that the Emperor must have descended from any one of the great Houses of the Imperium.
"It is the Halar's right to judge His anointed, not ours," her unembarrassed answer reaches my ears.
Unbelievable… Is there any limit to what these people would do so long as they believe it is the Halar's command to do so? "So you are willing to obey an incompetent so long as you believe that he is anointed by the Halar?" I then ask, not bothering to conceal my disbelief.
"As I have already said, von Kampf, the Halar will judge," she repeats with a hint of irritation, "Till He indicates otherwise, we hold ourselves in filial obedience to the authority He has placed above us."
To invest all their faith in a being they cannot see… I am torn between mocking their naivety and being impressed at their stoicism. But then again, unquestioned leadership does have its advantages—the absence of politicking, efficiency in decision-making and secure leadership amongst them; all traits clearly missing from our society what with the existing stalemate between the throne and the people.
I however was exceedingly certain that the Corinthos could never acknowledge the mortality of the Vizier. Or that they were convinced that theirs was the righteous path and that they, by virtue of them pursuing that path, were the penultimate form of existence second only to their Halar.
So in truth the Corinthos believed themselves to be imperfect beings and they fight as a display of gratitude to their Halar who they believe has accepted them as they are?
I am confused.
It was easier to accept a master race concept, not some nonsense about them being so wound up by their perceived sins that they would be willing to commit so many atrocities in the name of a being they believe to forgive their sins.
The mind of a religious fanatic… Seriously, what on earth?
The look upon her face tells me that she sincerely believes in every single thing she has uttered to me in the past ten minutes. A sudden anger surges within me and I suddenly find myself biting back the desire to shake her shoulders roughly and demand answers…
What of the Inquisitors? Are their activities are condoned merely because they are doing what they believe to be right?
What of the hundreds of innocents purged in the Great Culling some twenty-four years ago, in which my father's life was taken along with his entire family? Is it justified because they were granted permission by the Halar's anointed—the bastard Vizier, who is acknowledged to be in no way perfect?
So what if I feel massacring every single Corinthos, be they Crusader or civilian, that I manage to lay my hands upon is the right thing to do? Does this justify my actions?
No, I would probably land before a military tribunal…if they do decide to prosecute me. But even if I escape censure, could I live with my conscience?
Could they live with their conscience?
Judging from the unperturbed expression etched all over Atelier's face…they can.
Acceptance of weakness, a concept unheard of in the Imperium, actually seems to empower them if the words uttered by this child-adult before me is true.
The acknowledgement that they are flawed...
That their leaders are flawed…
And that only their Halar is perfect and in His grace, has redeemed them…
And for that reason, they fight in honor of that memory against those who would disavow Him—like the Kyrian of former Havan who were pagans and animists for the most part and us Daim whose addiction to science has long conflicted with the Corinthos's preoccupation with religion.
She is staring at me and I realize that I have been staring at her without actually comprehending her presence for a brief while. "Apologies, I was merely thinking for a moment," I mutter.
There is a brief silence between us as my mind is taken by a growing thought…
"Why do you fight, Atelier?" The question disembarks from my tongue and her expression grows troubled as I press her, "Is it for vengeance for your family, or is it for the propagation of the Halar's gospel, or…"
She cuts me off and says with a deepening flush upon her face, "Ideally, it would be to preserve the Halar's principles in an increasingly godless world… But honestly?" Atelier turns her blue eyes to meet mine and she says in a whisper, "I see the faces of my family each and every day, von Kampf, and I will be damned if I were to just stand by and allow their deaths to go by unpunished."
I remain silent as a single tear streaks down her cheek as she continues in a choked whisper, "Vengeance is actually against our creed, but I am no more than an imperfect mortal… No matter how hard I try, von Kampf, I cannot bring myself to forgive your kind!"
Sentiments I share, even though forgiveness is not exactly in line with the ideologies of us Daim…
Atelier glares at me and I meet her gaze unperturbedly before smiling briefly, "That is the nature of us fallen homme, no?" Her eyes widen slightly and I decide in that moment that I have all the answers I want for now. The wardens can interrogate her about the Corinthos movements and what-not...
I had only hoped to understand the Corinthos psyche better and I do not think I was altogether disappointed. Baffled certainly, but not disappointed…
"This interview is concluded," I say with finality as I rise to my feet, noticing that a look of confusion has now overtaken her fair face.
She splutters, "What did you hope to achieve, von Kampf? You've scarcely asked anything of strategic importance, facts that actually matter on the Western Front!"
I only shrug in reply.
A siren in the distance abruptly blares and the two of us look up sharply. That is strange; the Arcatraz was surely too far within Daim airspace for us to be under attack by the Corinthos…
The cell door opens with a hiss and one of my men stands there, flanking a nervous looking warden. "What is it?" I bark, switching over to the Daim tongue with a warning look at the Crusader sitting behind me.
My Myrmidon nudges the stammering warden sharply and the panicking man took a deep breath before replying, "Apologies, Baron von Kampf but the Arcatraz is under attack…"
"Any imbecile can tell that, when all of your sirens are blaring at full alert," I said brusquely. "Attacked by whom? How could the Corinthos have slipped through the First Fleet so easily to strike at the Arcatraz?"
"We are not under attack by the Corinthos," the man clarifies, his face paling.
The poor man then gibbers pathetically, "We are under attack by the legions of hell…the same that has struck at Dai'vyaz!"
Dai'vyaz? Dai'vyaz is under attack?!
I look at my Myrmidon who gives me a curt nod, confirming the implications of the warden's words. So much has happened, all while I was closeted together with the Crusader?
I grab the front of the warden's uniform and hiss, "Get your act together, warden. You are in the military, so shape up and stop acting like a two-bit conscript!" He blanches before saluting sharply and glaring at him, I continue, "Guide my men to the…"
My words trail off as a Crimson Guard comes sweeping down the corridor and salutes me briefly. "Baron von Kampf, my master instructs you to meet him at the armory in ten."
I smile tightly and glancing at the hapless warden, nod at the direction of the Crimson Guard. "What he said, warden…" I then bark at my Myrmidon, "Prepare your men, sergeant."
He nods and immediately marches off, taking the gibbering warden and the Crimson Guard with him.
"What is happening?" Atelier asks behind me, her eyes as wide as saucers when I turn around to face her. "Is the Arcatraz under attack?" The hope reflected within those blue orbs of hers is so visible till I cannot help but smile briefly.
"It is an internal problem," I reply with as much calm as I can muster. The Dai'vyaz was attacked, and now the Arcatraz as well by the legions of hell… The demonkin.
The Grand Magus's warning resounds yet again, her words speaking of powerful daemons and great hordes of demonkin descending from the north echoing in the vestiges of my mind. They have moved quicker than anyone has expected, judging from the presence of Elias here rather than in a secured location elsewhere or that the capital Dai'vyaz has already been attacked…
I look at Atelier and think wryly that we will probably not remain as enemies soon enough but that is a story for another time. I have best leave soon; Elias will be waiting for me…
"This interview is concluded," I repeat with a dry smile and bow to the bound Atelier, "Fare thee well, milady and may the Halar go with you…"
In all honesty, chronologically-wise this was supposed to come out before Flameheart 21. Unfortunately, I ran out of ideas early and came up with the aforementioned first and even till now I'm not too sure what I was trying to achieve here... Probably try to explain the background and the beliefs of the Corinthos a little I guess, though now I have to ask you readers: can you understand their motivations better now? Or is it still somewhat awry? Writing stuff from a first person POV is so fricking hard compared to third person POVs haha!
My final exams of my college life are two days away, so this will be the last update in awhile (then again, it's not as if I update very quickly). I hope this was an understandable (and enjoyable) chapter, so please do read and review.
21 days to Christmas! Woot, maybe I'll come out with a Flameheart/Atelier Christmas Special or something =P