A Matter of Perspective

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We were three bottles down, flushed with kill fever and the thrill of survival. I had reached that peculiar stage of rising euphoria with the longed-for crest still just out of sight, but tantalisingly imminent. Lurss, as was his wont, was fast approaching insensibility.

We reclined against the blackened bulk of an ancient tree, taking our ease amidst the smashed remnants of what had once been a grand, artfully landscaped garden. Fire-dappled smoke clung to the churned earth and the skeletal remains of once-cherished topiary, further dirtying our bloody clothes. It had been a good day, but there was still one finishing touch to go before the night would be complete. 

I raised the cracked, filthy bottle to my lips, and took a sip. The coarse spirit burned, and I welcomed the heat.

‘To victory,’ I said, wiping my lips and handing the bottle back to Lurss.

‘In the Bloodfather’s name!’ Lurss roared, slurring his words. He took a swig, and held onto the bottle.

‘Aye, in his name,’ I said, carefully watching my oldest friend. ‘Another blow struck against the Imperial dogs.’

‘Curse their names!’ Lurss bellowed, leaning over to spit onto the charred earth.

I looked away, out to where great fires burned in the city. ‘They cursed our names,’ I said after a moment. ‘Did you hear them?’

‘Pathetic!’ he snarled. He took another swig before carrying on, spittle and alcohol spraying from his bloodied lips. ‘Cowards.’

‘Traitors, they called us.’

‘Traitors? What do they know? What did loyalty to an empty throne bring them? Can’t they see their god is dead?’

‘Aye, well. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?’ 

‘What perspective? Their skulls line the path to the Bloodfather’s throne, and we drink in the ruins of their city!’

Even over the crackle of the fires and the distant shouts of men and beasts, I could hear the heaving bellows of his breath. I turned back and met his wild, bloodshot gaze.

‘Do you remember when we set ourselves free?’ I said. ‘And why?’

For a moment I saw the burning city reflected in his eyes, and in that instant, I saw Lurss as he had once been. Proud. Fierce, but level-headed. A leader. Then the moment passed, and the fire in his eyes was simply rage and bloodlust.

‘Yes,’ he hissed, chest heaving. ‘And it was glorious.’

‘That it was,’ I said. ‘It was brutal, but then our way was always brutal, wasn’t it? And they tolerated that while it suited them.’

Lurss sneered and spat on the ground again, but held his tongue.

‘To the soldiers we fought that night, and every night since then, we are the enemy. The Archenemy, they call us.’

‘They’re fools. They know nothing!’

‘Fools they are, but we fought side by side with them once. We allied our fire and fury to theirs, and we shared a common cause. Those were good years too, were they not?’

Lurss stared at me for a long moment, crimson bleeding further into his eyes with every passing second, and I wondered if I had pushed him too far. When he didn’t speak, I continued. 

‘And when we finally opened our eyes,’ I said, ‘we cast aside our old alliances, and we left them in our wake, burned and bloodied. We set out into the stars and lent our strength to other allies, spent the blood of our brothers and sisters in the name of another god.’

Lurss began to growl, and shake. I could feel the bloodlust building in him again at the mention of his god. I reached out and grasped him by the shoulder, drawing him closer. 

‘The moment we turned on the Imperium, we became traitors. To them, we can only ever be the enemy.’

‘No!’ Lurss growled, gripping my arm and digging his fingers into the muscle. Trickles of blood were leaking from the corners of his eyes, leaving crimson tracks through the dirt and grime caking his face. Before he could say any more, I rushed ahead. 

‘Think about it! Are they not also traitors? Did they not betray our trust too, by clinging to their hidebound traditions and refusing to take the path laid out before us?’

I paused. Lurss didn’t relinquish his grip, but he didn’t speak either, just stared. I knew then that I had him. 

‘We were once the same as them, but we opened our eyes. We have gone on to great things while they have stagnated! Think of the glories we have experienced, the blood we have shed alongside other true believers who walk the Eightfold Path.’

‘Yes…’ he croaked, eyes completely unfocused as he sank into red memories. 

‘The razing of Kardanel Prime’, I said. ‘The sacking of the Living Citadel. The Lychways! By the Path, do you remember that? The screams, they echoed through the ways and out into the Empyrean, crying our names!’

With every remembered glory Lurss shook harder, memories of blood spilt and skulls taken, sending him into heights of blood-drunk ecstasy. The moment was almost at hand, I could feel it. 

‘We have travelled the stars, allying ourselves to strength, forging our legends. We have walked far along the Path. But never forget that being a traitor is a matter of perspective, and a matter of choice. Of intent. Of willpower and determination.’

Lurss was foaming now, wracked with tremors as his body tried to process the alcohol in his system and the blood fury coursing through his veins. I drew him closer into an embrace. 

‘It was always you and me, brother. Together. We had the will, and the strength,’ I whispered in his ear. ‘But now it’s time to move on. Onwards to glory.’

There was just enough of my friend left for him to recognise my voice, and what I was saying. ‘Yes…’, he whispered back. 

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not for you.’

I felt his body stiffen as the blade slid between his ribs. 

‘For the Changer,’ I whispered. ‘Brother.’

About the Author

Michael James is a writer, editor and voracious reader of pretty much anything and everything, but especially science fiction. Michael lives in London surrounded by more books than he will probably ever read, but he likes a challenge.