Author notes: This... I don't even know. I started writing and came up with this dark little thing about Marduk training. Upon rereading, I stared and wondered what I was thinking, as it disturbs me, the author. Ack.


Thanks to my reviewers Moonlit, Atreyu452, Moro Stagsleap, and Reaalis.



Teaching the soldiers

It was a game.

The boys played it seriously, hidden in night's shadow and between the stark dormitory beds on the cold, dirty floor.

It would begin with few sitting in a circle, eyes glinting and hooded in the half-light. It always did. They would be silent, but the others always knew, somehow, and would creep in to join the game. They all knew the risk and reward.

The candles gutter as old, heavy doors swing shut, immense locks long useless. All eyes turn to see the hunched figures of players, stealing a few moments from the teachers and trainers and brainwashers. They sit, and someone gasps as he recognizes a newcomer's face.

It is the one they say will one day be the leader, and he has never before played.

The game-leaders nod, for all have come. The oldest, fourteen, pulls a softly shining object from his pocket, setting it down in the circle center.

It is a knife, stolen from the kitchens.

The youngest, seven, stands and is watched by all. He slips gleaming metal from a concealed pocket, and hands the gun, liberated from the firing range many weeks ago, to the oldest. All eyes are possessed by it.

The oldest, moving as if in a trance, opens the chamber, loading one golden bullet. It snaps shut, and is carefully placed crosswise on the knife-blade. For a moment, silence reigns with candles whispering to each other. No eye lifts from the weapons.

This time, the task belongs to the youngest. He kneels, silently resting a hand on the deadly cross.

"What will it be?" he asks quietly, subdued, "what shall we choose? The choice is..." He lifts the gun, holding it carefully. The knife-handle is nudged with a fingertip, and it spins. It drifts and coasts to a stop in front of an intense boy with milky skin and fiery hair. The young boy's eyes narrow. "Yours."

A faint smile gently caressing his lips, the red and white boy points elegantly at the glowing gun cradled in the child's arms. "I choose all and nothing," he says, a ritual response. He has done this before. The knife is tucked away, the youngest sits down, and the game begins.

The shiningly muted gun is still for a moment as all watch intently. A solitary hand sneaks out, giving a gentle push. Rotating slowly, the silver barrel makes three turns before coming to rest, pointing at the brown-haired boy in red. He leans forward and takes it gently, caressing cold metal, transfixed.

An uneasy feeling sweeps the crowding boys. If this boy, the future leader, wins-

"Three," States the oldest as officiator, bringing speculation to a halt as all eyes but two are fixed on him, "do you accept?"

The shadowed red-brown boy nods, staring fixedly at the deadly grace. His hands move, spinning the revolver's chamber.

Once.

The light glints carefully off the metal, afraid to touch such fluid perfection. All eyes watch the movement until it slows and ceases- a kind of fear and small hope in their eyes.

Twice.

The red-brown boy is sweating now, anticipating the inevitable. His hands have begun to tremble. Every boy in the circle is leaning forward, drugged on the intoxicating adrenaline, entranced by the dull sheen.

Three times.

The boy watches as it clicks into place- palms slippery and quivering. Slowly he brings the gun to his head, the muzzle kissing the joining of jaw and skull, eyes closed. Taking a deep breath, his eyes open and he looks carefully at each player, memorizing. He sees desperation and strange hunger in every pair of eyes, smiles, and shuts his own.

The circle holds its breath. It edges forward unconsciously, eyes wide and muscles tense. The boy bows his head, muttering something inaudibly, sounding very much like a prayer. His hands tighten convulsively on the trigger, and squeeze- the hammer drops into place with a deafening-

Click.

It echoes about the room, the sound of the empty chamber. The boy's eyes slide open, and he lays the gun, now nothing more than a chunk of metal, on the floor. The youngest scoops it up, all reverence gone. The candles are snuffed and those who snuck in sneak back out. Only the oldest and the boy in red are left on the floor, waiting for something. The boy in red speaks first.

"I was close," he sighs, "so close to the edge..." He shakes his head and rubs his damp palms over brown pants to dry them. "I was praying to win."

The oldest nods. He has been playing this game for a very long time. "I know," he says, "I always wish to win as well. But I have never seen anyone do it."