"To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time"
-Chapter 7: Achilles-
Caesar's eyes had probably run over the same sentence ten times, not once absorbing it, before he gave up.
"I'm going for a walk," he announced.
"Are you going to check on Albert again?" Apple murmured without looking up from her own book.
"No, I am not. I tried to do my duty in that respect earlier, but they informed me that he couldn't yet see visitors; this is merely to be expected, since it has been mere hours since he was injured. Now, I – I am merely going for a walk, but if I wandered by that general area, it would be complete coincidence."
"Wait, wait. Let me tell you how many people you fooled with that." She looked up pointedly.
"Why aren't you in your own damn tent?" Caesar asked, silently blessing her for her attempts to distract him.
"You call that glorified duffel bag a tent?" She snorted. "And me, I'm brass. I weep for the common man."
"Would you like me to pick something up for you while I'm out, milady?" he asked gallantly. "Perhaps a drink? The finest chilled chateaubriand, to be served in crystal glasses..."
"Caesar," Apple laughed, "do you even know what chateaubriand is?"
"I had thought wine, but judging by your scorn..."
"It's meat, Caesar, and go to your brother; I'd imagine that he'd want to see you right about now."
Caesar nodded and tried not to seem too anxious as he left. He knew he should trust the doctors; by all accounts, they were quite competent, and Albert, among the highest-ranking officials in camp, would receive only the best treatment. And he had received prompt medical attention, and each of Caesar's inquiries had been met with progressively more irritable assurances that no, the wounds were in no way life-threatening, and yes, it was normal for someone to bleed that much. But Caesar, for all logic, didn't quite believe them. How could they know if an organ had been hit or not? It would be so easy for them to make a mistake. Even at this moment, Albert could be dying or dead.
He only had to step within earshot of the medical tent, however, for his fears to be assuaged.
"Absolutely not," came Albert's voice from inside. Caesar turned to the man sitting out in front of the tent, suddenly feeling a lot more relaxed.
"Is it all right...?" Caesar began. The harried-looking man waved him inside.
"Madam," Albert had begun once Caesar walked inside. The elder Silverberg looked well, considering; a bit pale, a bit tired, but his head was propped up with pillows, and evidently, his lungs hadn't been hit. A nurse stood over him, a cup in one hand, a glass bottle in the other. "You have no idea what I have experienced. I have walked the most treacherous halls of political intrigue. I have rubbed shoulders with bishops and with kings, all of whom wanted to see me fail. I have served as counsel to the same. I have stared down an enemy across a battlefield and across a negotiation table. Many of these enemies would stoop to any low to see me taken out. How do you suppose I've managed to survive this long?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "By never losing my ability to think. So if you think I'll take something that would incapacitate me, my dear woman, you are gravely mistaken."
"You are aware that you're the only one who likes to hear yourself speak, aren't you, Albert?" Caesar asked.
The nurse, who seemed more irritated than impressed by Albert's name-dropping, turned to Caesar. "Good evening, General Silverberg," she said, scowling. "As you might see, I'm having to deal with a bit of childishness here."
"Childishness!" Albert exploded, trying to sit up, then groaned and slid back down.
"Maybe you can convince him to take it," she said and held out the bottle to him. "Up for it?"
"Always," Caesar said, and took both the bottle and the cup.
"Fill the glass half-full, and don't let him eat or drink anything afterwards. If you'll excuse me, now, I have lives to save," she said, and walked off in a flurry of skirts.
Caesar glanced at the label a moment. "It's for pain relief, you know," he said, shaking the bottle enticingly.
"It'll also put me to sleep," Albert responded.
"You're surrounded by armed guards, Albert. Nothing's going to happen."
"I'm not afraid of being attacked. The problem is that there are things that I would end up talking about if under the influence of something like that, and I shouldn't be talking about things."
"Like what?" Caesar said jokingly.
Albert fixed him with a steady gaze. "Like the fact that my second-in-command is a spy for Sasarai."
He considered making a joke about how, evidently, Albert didn't need mind-altering substances to make him spill his guts, but Albert looked in the mood for a jest neither at this moment or about this topic in general. "A spy for...Oh, you mean on you. How do you know?"
"I know. And if I let him know that I knew..."
"Wait – he's a spy, and you let me see that note earlier where he could see you giving it to me?"
"Yes," Albert said simply. "Aren't you doubly grateful to me for showing it to you?"
"I'm doubly convinced that you're an idiot."
But Albert was shaking his head. "Don't worry. It'll work out."
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Caesar demanded. Albert merely raised an eyebrow and took a drink of the water on his bedside table. Unfortunately for the elder brother, this backfired and reminded Caesar of the bottle in his hand. He sat down in the chair set up next to Albert's cot and poured until the cup was half full.
"Oh, come on, Albert. I'll be here. I'll make sure no one comes in and bothers you."
"You don't think there are things I want to keep from you, too?"
"It'll help you. If you don't drink it, you won't be able to sleep."
"I can do without sleep."
"No, you can't."
"It's purple, Caesar."
Albert actually sounded vaguely petulant. "So, I can't drink something that's purple!"
"It's not a natural color."
"Sure it is. Plenty of things are purple. Lilacs, and plums, and..."
"Give me the fucking cup."
Caesar handed it over without a word. Albert stared at it and swirled the viscous liquid, then looked up at Caesar. "You'll leave as soon as I take this, right?"
Albert nodded. He took a deep breath and threw the entire thing back, then immediately choked and grabbed Caesar's arm.
"It burns," he coughed.
Caesar took the cup from his brother's hand. As soon as the hand was no longer full, Albert reached for his water, but Caesar, feeling reasonably bad about it, slid it out of reach.
"I'm sorry," he said. "You can't."
"But..." Albert's eyes slid shut and rested there for a moment before he forced them open with a visible effort. They looked dull in the half-light. "You should leave now," he murmured.
And Caesar would have, if Albert's hand hadn't been tangled in his sleeve. "I will once you let go of me."
Albert nodded, but his grip didn't loosen. Caesar would have been surprised if he'd even heard him. Slowly, Albert's eyes drifted shut once again, and his face relaxed. Strange – Caesar had never realized how tightly controlled Albert's face was. How could he stand living like that? Never letting an emotion slip for fear of the consequences...
Caesar let Albert rest like that a few moments, then tried to disentangle hand from sleeve without waking him. He had only loosened Albert's thumb, though, when his older brother opened his eyes once again.
"Where's Caesar?" Albert whispered.
"I'm here, Albert – " Caesar said, suppressing a laugh. Albert tried to sit up, and hissed something and winced expressively.
"Caesar – " he said, mind evidently cleared by pain. "You promised to leave."
"I've been trying!" Caesar responded, trying to push Albert back down. Slowly, the elder slid back down, but this time his eyes didn't close. Slowly, though, he relaxed again, and the eyes sort of glazed over, moving or blinking every once in a while.
"Tell him I'm sorry," Albert said suddenly.
"Who?" Caesar asked, only half paying attention. He'd gotten two of Albert's fingers to let go, but the final three were putting up a fight.
"Dad," he murmured. "Will you tell him?"
Caesar frowned. "I don't know if I'll be able to, Albert."
"Will you try?" Albert asked.
"I'll do my best." The middle finger had lost its grip.
"You can't talk to him. He's dead." Gee, you think? Thanks, Albert. "I killed him."
Caesar stopped in the middle of disentangling Albert's pinky. "What?"
Albert blinked up at him. "What?"
"You said..." Caesar tried to collect his thoughts. A scream, however, from outside, hastily cut off, interrupted them.
"What was that?" Albert asked, trying to sit up again. Caesar pushed him down and pulled his arm from Albert's grip.
"Relax. I'm going to go take a look."
He stood up and walked outside. It had gotten dark – extraordinarily dark – since he had arrived at the medical tent. The tent was set off from the main avenues of the camp, as well – normally an advantage, since, away from the bustle and noise, patients were more able to sleep. However, no one had thought it necessary to hang gaslights outside. Consequently, Caesar, his eyes still used to the lamps inside the tent, couldn't see a damned thing.
He took a few experimental steps anyway, and stumbled over something, and fell. His hand went into something wet, and when he pulled it up again, his palms were darker than the pale gray of his skin. He kept himself still and heard a peculiar whistling sound, and he realized that it was someone injured.
"Oh my God..." he muttered, then forced himself to his feet. "Someone! Help! I need – someone's hurt – "
Then something slammed into him from the side, lifted him up and pressed him bodily against something solid – a perverse snatch of awareness informed him matter-of-factly that it was a tree trunk – and held him there by a length of body that was thin and bony-hard, by a length of something cold pressed against his throat.
He took in a breath to yell for help, but a low voice, somewhere between a whisper and a growl, hot against his face, spoke before he could cry out. "Go on," it urged, full of cruel laughter. "Keep screaming."
This silenced him more effectively than a thousand admonitions toward silence. "Get off of me," Caesar spat. The man – he still couldn't see well enough to make out anything more than a general impression of black clothes and pale skin, but the voice was distinctly masculine – laughed, and slid the silvery blade along Caesar's throat. He was suddenly very aware of the tree forcing him into the man.
"I hardly think, boy, that you're in a position to demand anything of me," the man in black hissed. Caesar, upon consideration, couldn't help but agree. "Now – where is Silverberg?"
"What?" Caesar asked. The man looked displeased.
"He's in this camp, I know. I can feel him. And you...you know where he is. Tell me where."
An assassin of some sort, no doubt. Probably from Harmonia, sent by some political enemy. For all the lucidity of his thoughts, though, Caesar was utterly unable to find his voice. The assassin, evidently, took this as being uncooperative.
"Very well, then," the man said, and shifted his grip on his weapon. It took a moment before Caesar realized that he was going to die. He tried to speak, then, to sell out his brother; he tried to beg for a reprieve; but all that escaped was an anguished moan, and he clenched his eyes shut and waited for the overwhelming pain.
Slowly, he opened his eyes again to see the pale man watching him thoughtfully. "You're his brother," he whispered. "I could recognize that wince of anticipation and pain anywhere...This is delightful!"
The man reached up to caress the side of Caesar's face. Nausea rose. He didn't dare act on it, though; if some fancy was keeping him alive, he'd be the last to deny that fancy.
The assassin's wrist sort of snapped sideways, and there was a knife in his hand, trailing the path of Caesar's cheek. "Imagine," the tall man breathed. "Just imagine the look on Silverberg's face if I presented him his darling brother inside out...Hewn and split like a side of meat. I wonder if he'd cry..." At this, the man pushed the very tip of his knife into the tender skin beneath Caesar's eye, twisted it, and pulled it out. Caesar managed to swallow his yelp into a soft grunt. The man trailed his finger through the flow of blood over Caesar's cheek and licked it. "How delicious that would be," he said with a grin.
"Yuber," someone said. The tall man twisted, and Caesar was able to see Albert framed in the tent's entryway.
"Silverberg," Yuber growled in return – and yes, now Caesar recognized the demon who had run with Albert during the war, five years ago.
"You can't..." Albert grimaced. "Hurt Caesar. You can't hurt anyone here..." Albert swayed, and looked as though he was about to fall over, but gritted out a bit more. "By the blood that...that binds us..."
Yuber turned back to Caesar with curled lip and took an exaggerated step back that allowed Caesar to stumble forward. He immediately went to his brother, who collapsed onto Caesar's shoulders.
"You shouldn't have gotten up," Caesar said, barely even aware of what he was saying. Albert sort of grunted, and obliged his brother's prodding by cooperating with a shuffle back inside and over to his bed, leaning heavily on Caesar, who couldn't help but see that blood was soaking through the back of Albert's gown.
"Are you all right?" he muttered to Albert, who managed a shaky nod. Gradually, Caesar helped lower Albert back into his bed. Immediately, the elder Silverberg's eyes closed, but Caesar couldn't let him sleep quite yet.
Albert's eyes opened again as Caesar shook his shoulder. "What?" he whispered, his face pasty, covered with sweat.
"Can I leave you here with him?" Caesar asked urgently. "Will he hurt you?"
Albert shook his head, his eyes closing again. "I'll be...fine..." he sighed. A moment later, his shallow breathing slowed and deepened. Caesar looked over to see the demon watching him with calm eyes that stood in hideous contrast to the bloody knife still dangling loosely from his hands, the bit of blood on his lower lip. At Caesar's glance, Yuber grinned, and his teeth were red.
Caesar wasn't entirely sure if he believed his brother, but he needed to find a doctor both for Albert and the man who lay bleeding outside, even now. So he abandoned him to the tall, lean man who took an indolent seat in the chair by Albert's bed.
Caesar returned sometime later, the doctor who had tended to the wounded man in tow, to find that Yuber hadn't moved. Even after he had retreated to the other side of the tent, the demon watched Albert's still form with uncanny eyes, an unchanged gaze, never blinking in his feline fascination.
So, yeah. I couldn't bring myself to kill off Albert...yet. Moo wah hah hah hah.
I think that once I finish this damn thing, I'm going to go through and proofread and clean up all the plotlines I just sort of dropped. I was, for example, planning to do a lot more with Franz, but I realize now that it's not going to work. And thank you, Jonathan, for pointing out the Shiba thing; I have to be quite honest, I completely forgot about it. But he is still alive, because they ended up winning the battle in time. I certainly didn't just pull that from my own ass. Not me; never.
Also, D'Artagnan, thank you for pointing those typos out. I'm so embarrassed.
Problem here is that I need to stop rushing these chapters. I just want to get on with the story, though, because I'm really kind of excited for what's ahead.