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    Faith and Loyalty, Chapter 2

    Obediently moving to claim the chair indicated by the Grand Navarch, Max ran his claws through the fur of his neck before turning to the necromancer with a pleading stare. "How's my squadron?"   "Same as when you asked yesterday." Shane raised an eyebrow. "We're good hosts. They're well looked after."   "Good hosts. Like you've been with me?"   The human smirked. "No. You get special treatment."   "Figures." Max slouched in his seat, his ears folding back against his head as he lowered his eyes. "Which of my beliefs do you intend to shred to pieces today?"   "Thought I'd let you pick. Cal says you have questions."   Sitting stiffer in his chair, Max turned to stare at the heretical leader of the mercenaries he and his squadron had spent much of their careers chasing. The necromancer was even more imposing in person than he'd been in the intelligence holovids, a feat Max hadn't realized was possible. While the Mordena wore stiff black uniforms with sharp red trim their Grand Navarch elected for a simple black, bearing only the red glossed triangles of the Mordena's dragonbird logo on either side of his starched collar, the unforgiving military cut only accenting his unrepentant smirk. Straight, shoulder length black hair framed his dark visage, his ruthless orange eyes demanding Max's complete attention.   "We were talking about death," Max offered cautiously.   "Your favorite topic."   "It's not my–" Or was it? He'd certainly been thinking about it a lot lately.   "You Descendants spend all your time trying to dictate how people should react to their own deaths, as if it's any of your business. For a bunch of religious zealots who profess the dead should be left alone, you spend a lot more time obsessing over them than I do. And I'm a necromancer."   "We don't–" Max froze, his shoulders slumping lower. Except we do. The entire Faith centered around death, didn't it? And dictating what people do about it. Just like he said.   His captor allowed him to silently stew in his own doubts until Max gathered his thoughts enough to pick one. He finally settled on the question he'd asked his warden, just before the Grand Navarch's arrival. "Do I get to choose?"   Shane blinked. "Choose what? Death? Have you grown that tired of my company?" He smirked, and Max realized with alarm the necromancer was preparing a spell. "I suppose I could arrange that."   "No! That's not–"   The Grand Navarch's smirk grew wider as he folded his hands in his lap instead, and Max couldn't help but feel he'd just given the man exactly what he wanted. It's just that I don't want to die.   Max sighed, slumping deeper into his chair. "What is it you want from me?"   Shane's eyes glinted with a predatory hunger. "Now you're asking the right questions."   "Which you still won't answer."   "Yet."   Shane propped an ankle on his opposite knee, leaning on his leg as he eyed Max carefully. It was the most relaxed the Officer had seen him, and Max found himself sitting straighter in his chair as a result.   "What are you afraid of, Officer Coilin?"   "You." Max eyed the Grand Navarch warily, but the necromancer only laughed.   "Misplaced." Shane shook his head as he spread his hands, palms up. "I'm not here to hurt you, I'm trying to help. What are you really afraid of?"   "So you can have me face that next?" Max snorted. "Nice try."   "You don't know, then. Except... I think you do. I think you know exactly what you're afraid of, but you can't admit it because that makes it real."   Crossing his arms as he leaned back in his seat, Max glared at Shane with more bravado than he felt. "Alright then. Since you know me so well, what am I afraid of?"   The Grand Navarch shifted to return both feet to the floor, hands folding in his lap once more as he leaned forward with a sneer. "What if everything you were raised to believe is a lie?"   Max swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as Shane voiced the question, the implications of the thought already circling in his mind from the necromancer's weeks of intense questioning. You're an Officer of the Hydell Order. You can't afford these blasphemous ideas. And yet they continued, unwelcome and unwanted, despite his best efforts to hold them back.   "Could I have a glass of water...? Please?" he managed at last, his tongue already desperately seeking any corner of moisture remaining in his mouth, and suddenly the glass was in the necromancer's hand, Shane reaching through the Afterlife and retrieving it as if the act was the most natural response in the world. Max supposed that to him, it probably was.   Leaning forward to accept the gift, Max frowned as the deep chill of the glass bit through the fur and pads of his fingers. "I can't drink this. It's solid ice."   "It's still water."   "Yes... But how am I supposed to drink it this way?"   The necromancer shrugged. "You could melt it, I suppose. But that might go against your precious Natural Order."   "There's nothing unnatural about melting ice!"   "You're changing the state of its existence," Shane pressed, lips turning upward in a triumphant snarl. "Surely you're not supposed to interfere."   "It stays water the whole time," Max shot back, showing his own teeth.   "And souls are souls," Shane growled softly, leaning back in his chair. "Death and life are nothing more than phases of existence, after all. Something to think about."   Max opened his mouth with intent to argue, but the Grand Navarch's chair was already empty. Typical. He spun the glass in his hands before holding it to his snout, attempting to reach the ice within using his tongue. No such luck.   "I'm still thirsty, you know. I could use a little help."   "I'd offer," Cal's voice sounded forth in the sterile metal room, "but I'm not sure you want help from the dead, seeing as I'm apparently less of a person."   "I never said that," Max snapped, scraping desperately at the ice with his claws in an attempt to pry it from the glass.   "Not out loud."   Halting his efforts at the layers of hurt in Cal's voice, Max felt his veins suddenly turn colder than the ice in his hands. The dead were just as important as the living, right? People to be mourned, their memories treasured by those they left behind. Nobody's value changed just because they died...   Except the Conclave insists only the Worthy are allowed to return. So that would mean... No. I can't afford these types of thoughts. "I'm sorry, Cal. I just... I just want to be left alone."   "You know I can't do that."   "I know... But maybe you could pretend? At least for a little while?"   Max didn't know if he was relieved or disappointed by the silence echoing back Cal's answer.

    Cover image: Planet Moon Solar by LoganArt


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    Sage Dylonishere123
    R. Dylon Elder
    8 May, 2022 18:02

    So this will be the first real exchange I've read involving the infamous Shane and it's awesome! So many great witty pieces of dialogue that make him immediately likable. I really like how you handle max too. Breaking down this level of conditioning must be rough for all parties involved. I especially like the water analogy, not just because of its place in the story but it also helps explain more to the reader.

    8 May, 2022 20:18

    Excited to hear Shane came across well. <3 He is a problem, and very fun to write!

    Lead Author of Vazdimet.
    Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
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