And this is the last one-shot for now! (Until I finish more of them, of course. ;P)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Tragedy, Horror
Characters: Veck Simms, Companion Arles, Companion Razzie, Companion Felicity, Rachel Hall, Companion Sham, Thorn Tillman
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; lyrics are to "Do What You Have To Do" by Sarah McLaughlin; original characters and this fic belong to their author.
Summary: Valdemar is in the grip of a terrible plague that raises the dead, and into this apocalypse comes the Companion Arles' Call. Now he must brave the horrors of the new world alone in the hopes of reaching his Chosen and bringing him back to the relative safety of Haven: preferably while they are both still alive. (A Fallout side-story.)
What ravages of spirit,
Conjured this temptuous rage.
Created you a monster,
Broken by the rules of love.
:You can't go.:
:I have to.:
:But you can't! You know what it's like out there!:
:That's exactly why I have to go. It's my Chosen, Razzie. He's still out there, he's alive, and I can't leave him to the mercy of those—those things!:
:Razzie, hush. If you had known the Calling, you would understand why Arles needs to go.:
:Felicity! You're on his side?:
:Yes. If it was Rachel out there, I would brave anything to find her.: Felicity's Voice was soft, soothing but authoritative at the same time. :It is dangerous. There is a good chance neither he nor his Chosen will make it back to Haven at all. But this is something Arles has to do. The day of our Choice is what each of us was born for—no matter the circumstances surrounding us at the time of our Call.:
:But there are so few of us left… what if he doesn't come back?:
:Then we go on the best we can. We grieve, we mourn, but we keep living and fighting.:
Razzie was clearly still unimpressed with the whole situation, but Felicity's words and her tone made it clear that arguing further wouldn't get her anywhere—and besides that, Arles was pretty much already heading for the Collegium Gates, his attention somewhere else, far from Haven and the current conversation.
:Arles, wait!: Razzie gave a brief nod toward Felicity, then hurried after the young stallion. When Arles paused for a split second, she used the opportunity to catch up—then shifted a little, almost awkward. She was always outspoken and brash, but wasn't at all used to apologising for it. :I—sorry. I do understand, really, I just… I'm just worried. I want you to come back. We've already lost everyone else…:
She and Arles had grown up together right from when they were foals, along with three other young Companions. The five of them had been the next thing to inseparable. Now Sarina, Hayden and Niko were gone, lost to the plague along with so many others, and though she would never admit it to anyone, the thought of losing Arles too made her chest constrict and her breath catch—made her want to cry, even though she couldn't—made her feel as if she might break down and completely panic at the simple idea of being alone.
:I get it.: Arles responded after a long pause, and sighed softly before turning to look at her again. :I know why you're so against this. Do you really think I would leave if I had an option? But my Chosen…:
:I know.: Razzie reached over to lip at Arles' neck lightly. :Just please be careful.:
:I promise.: Arles turned, craning his neck a bit until he could lean into Razzie, his forehead and the bridge of his nose pressed into her shoulder, and stayed like that for a long handful of moments before taking a deep breath and moving away again.
Both of them turned their attention toward the Gates.
:Lets' do this before I lose my nerve.:
Easier said than done in post-apocalyptic Haven, Razzie thought, though she didn't say as much. Instead she cast her gaze along the fence line, taking in the sight beyond the safety of the outer wall.
Decaying bodies littered the ground, peppered in among the cobblestones and dirt. Some were civilians from farther down in Haven—others were recognizable as people they had known: Heralds, Healers, Mages and Guards. Palace staff. And Companions. Only three, but Razzie and Arles had known them: a young mare named Jennia, and two stallions, Brody and Tarjo. It was disturbing, painful—but Razzie and Arles could at least say that for those who had died, the suffering was over.
All of the dead, human and equine alike, bore the marks of being fed upon.
But even more horrifying than those who were gone were the people who had died—and had then come back.
They grabbed and clawed at the Gates, hands stretching through to scrabble at the air, grabbing at nothingness. The sight was terrible—the smell of death and decay cloying and choking, and the sound sent shivers down their spines. The only thing that made it even remotely tolerable, for Razzie and Arles at least, was the fact that there were no Companions among the undead. None of their kind had turned thus far—or at least not to their knowledge.
:Arles, you can't go out this way. If we open the Gates they'll all get in.:
:The back way, then. Where the deliveries come in for the Palace kitchens. There should be less of them back there.:
And fate has led you through it:
You do what you have to do.
And fate has led you through it:
You do what you have to do...
While Arles was correct in that there were less of the Infected at the rear Collegium entrance, there were, of course, still some. But only a few—and they seemed much less interested in what was beyond the walls than the ones at the front Gates. They milled around without purpose, not really going anywhere or focusing on anything in particular, and after a few moments of consideration, Arles decided that he could make it.
He and Razzie, though, were of course rather handicapped when it came to the hands that would be needed to open the Gates and close them again. In the past, it would have taken a simple, brief mental nudge and someone would have come out to saddle Arles up and send him off to Choose. But now there were hardly any people left within the Collegium grounds—so they needed to speak with Felicity again—or possibly Sham or Dysis. They were the only three Companions whose Chosen were still alive and residing in the relative safety of the Palace property.
:I… well. Arles needs some help. We need to get the back Gates open.:
:You've decided to aide him, I take it.: Felicity sounded almost amused, but quickly sent a vague feeling of agreement towards Razzie. :I'll talk to Rachel. She and the others can come out and open the Gates. Though I'm not sure how we will work it when he returns with his Chosen.: Then a pause, and she added, :we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it, I suppose.:
That was how life was now—lived one brief step—one obstacle—at a time.
There was simply no way to plan and prepare for the future anymore.
And I have the sense to recognize that
I don't know how to let you go.
It took a surprisingly short amount of time for people of the human persuasion to arrive at the back Palace entrance.
The young Companions were still looking beyond the fence, eyes flitting across the scene beyond, when hoof beats sounded behind them—and when they looked back, Felicity and Sham were there, Rachel and Thorn perched on their backs and markedly serious looks on the faces of all four of them.
Once Felicity and Sham came to a stop, their Chosen slid down to the ground, both landing with a practiced lightness despite the situation. Thorn's attention immediately turned to the scene outside the Gates, while Rachel lifted one hand to rest against Felicity's neck and let her own gaze rest on Arles for a long, contemplative moment.
Finally she shook her head. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
It was a question that was going to come up again and again, he knew, but still Arles blew a frustrated breath out of his nose. Rolling his eyes, he nodded his head decisively, forelock flying at the motion. If Razzie couldn't convince him to give up on this venture, then no one could—least of all another Companion's Chosen.
"Alright then." Rachel seemed to accept his response easily. She probably hadn't expected anything else. Moving away from Felicity, she stepped over to stand beside Thorn. They were both quiet for another few, drawn out breaths, then; "what do you think?"
"I think this is a stupid idea." Thorn replied, then amended with; "opening the Gates, I mean."
That was stating the obvious. Ideally, the Gates would stay closed until the Plague passed and the Infected were all gone—but realistically, even without Arles' Calling, eventually they would have to go outside. Their current supplies would only last so long, after all.
:I'd jump the wall if it wasn't twenty feet tall.: Arles offered less-than-helpfully.
Razzie snorted. Felicity didn't respond, and seemed not to have bothered relaying his comment to her Chosen—while Sham glanced toward Thorn, who blinked, then shook his head with a halfway-amused look.
"What about the tower door?"
"The tower door?"
"Yeah. Think you could fit through it, Arles?"
Now there was a thought: the Gates in both the front and back of the Collegium grounds were flanked on either side by guard towers. More towers were spotted along the length of the walls as well—but the ones directly beside the Gates had doors at the bottom which, when opened, provided a direct route to the outside from the towers themselves. Those along the fence line had access doors as well, but they didn't reach the outside—those ones were only used for the Guards to get in and out. The Gate towers were designed as emergency exits as well, in case the Gates themselves, for whatever reason, couldn't be opened.
Arles was silent as he contemplated. He paced up to stand by one of the doors in question, then flicked one ear absently. :Maybe.:
The doors were intended for human use, obviously, and Arles was significantly bigger than the average Guard. But if they could let the young stallion out without opening the Gates themselves, that would significantly cut down on the chances of the undead breaching the Palace walls and transforming their last safe-haven into nothing less than a death camp.
:Yeah. Yeah, okay.: Another whuff. Arles nodded sharply, then looked back over his shoulder. This time he Mindspoke to everyone, including Rachel and Thorn; :let's do it.:
Every moment marked
I'm ever swiftly moving,
Trying to escape this desire.
To their credit, neither of the Trainees seemed to even blink when Arles Bespoke them. Then again, he supposed that they had seen stranger things over the past few moons. It was probably pretty pointless to worry about keeping up the traditional Silence, now that he thought about it. All things considered, he and the rest of the Companions Speaking freely to humans other than their Chosen should probably have been low on the list of things to fret over.
What he was going to fret over, while Rachel and Thorn worked at getting the inner door open, was the urgency of the Call—it was getting stronger by the minute, more insistent, rattling his mind like an animal in a cage demanding attention and making his thoughts bounce around almost disjointedly at times.
He needed to go. Now.
"Tower's clear. Outer door's locked, though. The keys should be around here somewhere…"
Thorn's voice echoed dully from within the Guard tower and was followed by the muffled sounds of him searching the interior for aforementioned set of keys. Arles only realized he was impatiently dancing in place when Razzie reached over and nudged at his shoulder. The touch jarred him back to reality and he planted all four hooves firmly on the ground once more.
:I have to get out of here.:
:I know, just… try to be patient.:
:He's in danger, I can feel it, and I—:
No one commented on his exclamation. He supposed they all understood, to one degree or another. Within the tower, Thorn was fiddling with the keys to find the correct one. Then there was the clinking sound of a lock being opened. A moment later the boy poked his head back out. He was frowning a little, serious. Rachel echoed his expression as well.
"Okay. We need to time this right. Arles, you need to get in here with me as much as you can." Thorn waved one hand lightly, "Rachel will have to wait outside, there's not enough room for all three of us. Then I'll swing the door open." Another serious look. "The second this door is open enough for you to get through, you take off like a bat out of hell. There aren't a ton of them out there, so if you're fast enough, they won't be able to grab you." Then a pause and his lips twisted slightly. "Arles, we're closing and locking this door behind you."
That made sense, of course. They needed to have the doors open for as little time as possible, lest some of the undead make it inside. Arles nodded, his Mindvoice grave; :I understand.:
"Good." Thorn seemed relieved that he hadn't pitched a fit over the last bit.
"Now… when you get back…" Rachel crossed her arms, thinking, "I don't know how we'll get you in. But I guess we'll figure out a way. Though, if things aren't as outside of Haven, you could maybe just stay away. Hole up somewhere safe and wait everything out."
:Maybe. We'll see.: Arles was already moving toward the tower.
Thorn ducked back inside, then stood to the right of the door, one hand on the knob as he waited for the Companion to squeeze in with him. That done, he tightened his grip on the handle—then abruptly flung it open as wide as it could go. "Go! Good luck!"
And Arles made good on Thorn's orders—he leapt forward, haunches scraping harshly against the doorframe on either side, and ran like the hounds of hell themselves were after him.
I do what I have to do.
The yearning to be near you:
I do what I have to do.
The Infected were everywhere.
Arles had known the plague was bad, just based on what he could see from the Collegium grounds. But beyond that it was even worse: bodies littered the ground everywhere, and the undead roamed the streets of Haven in what had to be the hundreds.
There had been riots when the plague had first hit the Capital. Houses had been broken into—some had been set on fire. Haven had collapsed, was falling apart.
Arles put on more speed, his hooves clattering loudly against the cobblestone road. The faster he was out of Haven, the better.
But I have the sense to recognize
That I don't know how
To let you go.
After several days of travel, a name suddenly came to mind: Veck. Veck… Simms? Yes, that was it—that much Arles was certain of. And there wasn't very much he could be one hundred percent sure of anymore. To be so certain was nice, like a breath of fresh air. Like the sweet grass of Companion's Field or the cool, clear water of the Terilee River.
Gods, he missed the Field and the Terilee already.
He had been on the road for nearly three days now, and had barely stopped to eat or drink at all in that entire time. Not only did the insistent pull in his mind keep him moving, but he also didn't feel safe stopping—or, the havens forbid—sleeping. Not by himself without someone else there to keep guard.
Even outside of the Capital, the Infected were everywhere. It seemed like every corner of Valdemar was infested with them. And somewhere out there in the middle of it all was his Chosen.
Arles thought he was probably heading for Tindale. That was the direction he was going, anyway.
Tindale was a small farming town halfway between Haven and the Pelagiris forest. They grew many of the crops that were shipped to the Palace and the Collegium. They also herded some livestock outside of the town proper—sheep and goats, if he was remembering correctly. Not that it mattered anymore, with the way the world was now.
Finally, on the outskirts of Tindale, Arles stopped to look around. He was being wary, both for his own sake and for that of his future-Chosen. If he got hurt or killed, then who would look after the boy? Who would protect him? Arles needed to get into town, collect Veck, and then get back out again without attracting any attention from the undead.
Easier said than done, his mind supplied, and Arles whuffed softly in agreement.
This was not going to be a simple thing to do. Maybe if he were smaller, lighter—something other than the shape and size of a horse? A cat or a fox could do this, get in and out without being spotted, but in his case…
Not that he had a choice.
At least he wasn't wearing his formal tack. The bells would have been his undoing.
I don't know how
To let you go…
Everything within the boundaries of Tindale was just too quiet for Arles' liking: there were no Infected to be seen, but there were also no living. No animals. No birds singing or insects chirping. It was like the town was abandoned and dead.
Arles knew that wasn't entirely the case. There was at least one person still alive in Tindale, he just had to find him.
And so the young stallion picked his way carefully down the main street of the town, trying to be as quiet as possible. His hooves chimed slightly with every step, though. There was little he could do about that aside from stepping as lightly as he could. Still, even the small amount of noise he was making seemed to echo along the empty streets and alleys.
Halfway down the road he stopped again. Blue eyes flickered around, searching for any sign of life. And there, finally, a flitter of movement at the entrance to that alleyway—
Arles head swung around and he lifted his nose to the air, trying to pick up the scent of whatever was moving around in the shadows: and he did, his stomach clenching at the unmistakable decaying scent of the Infected. Arles snorted and began to back off the way he had come. He would find another way through town to locate his Chosen.
But it was inevitably too late.
Out of the alley stepped one of the undead—followed by another, the another—and when Arles turned to run, even more were blocking his path to freedom. Men, women and children, and worse, a half dozen snarling, growling, rotting Infected dogs.
Arles had never encountered undead dogs before. In Haven it was only the humans who were turned after they died. Clearly, though, the plague had the potential to raise more than just people. This was a terrible revelation and one that Arles knew he needed to bring back to Haven with him—that was, if he managed to make it out of his current predicament at all.
Dancing in place, Arles screamed and threatened, rearing up and striking out with his front hooves again and again. But the Infected didn't know fear. All they knew was hunger—insatiable, uncontrollable. Their only instinct was to hunt down prey and feed.
To his left, one of the dogs crouched, preparing to leap at him—
And a torch abruptly clattered to the ground in front of it, the flames cutting its jump short and pushing back some of the undead.
Arles was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, per se, and so rather than question this gift from the Gods, he snatched the torch up with his teeth and, keeping the flame between himself and the Infected, began backing away from them, farther toward the Tindale town center.
"Hey, over here!"
The shout made him snort in surprise and almost drop the torch. Instead he managed to tighten his grip on it, even as he was whirling to look for the source of the voice.
Across the street was another alley, and Arles' eyes lit on a small figure, half-hidden in the shadows there and waving him over. Whoever it was, they at least recognised him for what he was. If they had mistaken him for a normal horse, he doubted his chances would have been very good.
With his torch in tow, Arles hurried over to the alley. The figure waved a hand again, then headed down the alley, around a corner—and when Arles followed, he (Arles was certain it was a "he") had vanished. Confused, he looked around. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of the undead searching for him, and it wasn't as if he had hallucinated this person, was it?
Then a hand touched his shoulder and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"This way. Through this door."
Doors again. His flanks were still scraped up from the last human-sized door he'd had to go through. But, now, like then, he had no real choice. So he followed along through the aforementioned door. His saviour moved aside to let him in, then closed the door firmly behind them, locked it, and then dragged a heavy desk over to brace in front of it.
That done, he straightened and looked toward Arles. "You've got bad timing, going out right now. You On Search?"
The boy in front of him was fourteen—maybe fifteen years old. He was dirty, which was unsurprising, and thin, which was just as much so. His clothes were wrinkled and ripped in places. And his hair was blonde-brown, shaggy, falling over his eyes a little, getting in the way when he moved about.
But beyond all of that were the most beautiful, shining green eyes that Arles had ever seen.
A blink. "You know my name?"
:Yes, I—: Arles shook his head a little, realized he was still carrying a very-much-on-fire torch, then leaned his head to set it on the ground. :You're the one I'm here for, Veck.:
Veck, who had been bending to pick up the torch, intending to put it out and store it safely away, stopped cold. "You—what?"
Shifting almost awkwardly, Arles sighed out a nervous breath, then met Veck's emerald eyes with his own sapphire, cementing the Bond that was already forming between them with his crystal gaze.
:I am called Arles. And I Choose You, Veck Simms. You are my Chosen.:
A glowing ember,
Despite the situation, Veck was suitably awed and Arles took a moment to be surprised at how whole he was feeling, considering that he hadn't felt like anything was missing before. It was like finding something you never even knew you wanted or needed: it was completion. It was no wonder the older Companions had always spoken of the sacred rite of Companion's Choice with such severity and reverence.
Shortly, though, their moment of peace was broken by the sound of the undead bumping and scratching at the door.
:Is there another way out of here?:
"Yeah, the front doors. Come on."
Veck picked up the still-burning torch and moved through the room quietly while Arles followed along behind. There wasn't much he could do other than what Veck told him to—he didn't know his way around Tindale any more than he would know his way around the Dhorisha Plains or the Forest of Sorrows. So he simply made sure to keep close to his new Chosen as they crept through the building toward the other exit.
:How old are you, Veck?:
"Huh? Almost fifteen summers."
Arles stored that bit of information away in a little mental folder labelled "Veck." Given time, once their Bond deepened, he would be able to pluck tidbits like that from Veck's mind on his own—but right now everything was too fresh. While strong, the Herald-Companion Bond did take some time to develop properly.
:I think you've got Foresight.:
That actually drew a chuckle from the boy. "Of course. How do you think I survived on my own for so long? Same reason I managed to save your big white rump."
:Oh. I guess that makes sense.: They reached a corner and Veck turned left, Arles following close on his heels. :What about your family, though?:
The brief swell of sadness and grief that welled along their new Bond was enough to make Arles regret asking that question. He decided then that that was enough conversation for then. They could get to know each other better later on, once they were safe and sound and not on the brink of being rare steaks on the proverbial platter.
Veck stopped so abruptly that Arles almost walked into him.
"This is the door. Hold this."
Arles once more found himself carrying a lit torch. If he wasn't careful he would end up lighting his mane on fire. Being partially bald would probably be the least of his worries, though, especially when, behind them, there was a sudden loud bang, followed by the ear-piercing squeal of the desk being shoved away from the door—and Arles realised that they were no longer alone in the building.
Veck clearly came to the same conclusion, as he began working faster to unlock the door they were standing by. Arles listened intently, one ear back to catch what his Chosen was doing and the other pitched forward, listening to the sounds of the undead pouring in from the alleyway beyond.
Finally Veck shoved the door open, then hopped down the two steps to the ground below, reaching back to take the torch again and waving for Arles to follow. The young stallion did just that, stepping down carefully until his hooves were planted on solid ground again.
He was just turning around to push the door closed once more when a shout sounded from behind him—
And when he turned back, they were already surrounded.
:Get onto my back.:
"But there's no saddle—and I don't know how to ride without one!"
:Get onto my back, Veck!:
Not as if Veck had any other choice. He dropped the torch and quickly hauled himself up onto Arles back, ending up half-clinging to the stallion, one hand clenched tightly in his mane and the opposite arm wrapped firmly around his neck. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it gave Arles at least some sense of control of the situation—some feeling of being able to protect Veck, whereas before, he knew, the boy wouldn't have lasted more than a moment.
Realistically, though, Arles' chances weren't much better.
:Whatever you do, don't let go of me.:
Deep within I'm shaken by the violence
Of existing for only you.
When the first Infected began to move toward them, it seemed to spread like wildfire—suddenly what had been relative stillness and silence became movement and low, guttural growling and gurgling noises. Rasping moans and grinding teeth; reaching hands, bony with jagged nails; and dead, soulless flat eyes.
Monsters that had once been human.
With Veck on his back and still holding tight, Arles began backing up—but there wasn't very far for him to go, as the undead were beginning to pour from the open door behind them as well.
Shifting his weight, the Companion bucked lightly, kicking backward and knocking the Infected that were closing in behind them back. Then, rearing, he lashed out with his front hooves, striking at the undead here—but his feeble fighting was moot, considering how many of them there were: within seconds they were close again, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder as they reached and grabbed, driven to tear flesh from bone by some unknown, sinister force.
And then something clamped onto his ankle.
Pain flared from his hind leg, making him cry out sharply and the sound of grinding bones and tearing flesh could be heard even above the din of the Infected. Whirling, Arles yanked at his leg, pulling it free from the mouth of an undead dog—or, at least, he thought it was a dog—and then kicking harshly to knock it away again.
Something in his leg was broken now, cracked and agonizingly painful. It hurt to stand, and Veck's weight on top of his own was certain to be making it worse, but there was little he could do aside from ignoring it for now, because the throng of Infected were reaching—grabbing—
Arles fought. He fought hard, kicking and biting, whirling and using every bit of his weight, speed and strength. But it was no match for the sheer numbers of undead surrounding them and soon he was exhausted, worn and bleeding from too many wounds to count.
That was when they went for Veck.
I know I can't be with you:
I do what I have to do.
I know I can't be with you:
I do what I have to do…
When rotting hands first touched his Chosen, Arles screamed in fury—and when they pulled the panicked boy off of his back, dragging him to the ground, the stallion whirled, bucking and kicking, shrieking shrilly, his voice echoing throughout the abandoned streets of Tindale, mingling with Veck's own sharp, pained cries.
One of the Infected bit down harshly on his arm, tearing away a chunk of flesh, and Veck screamed even while another was ripping a hunk out of his throat, just below his right ear. Blood poured freely from both wounds—and Arles saw nothing but the red, rage building up inside him at the sight.
What happened next was a blur, when Arles looked back on it later: the Infected ravaged Veck, biting and scratching, and screams permeated the air. Arles continued to fight—barely even noticed when something—a dog—landed on his back, digging into his hide, the sound of ripping flesh much akin to tearing cloth. The pain didn't even register then, and the Companion whirled, slamming his entire left side into the brick wall beside him, knocking the undead canine away even as another one was snapping at his heels.
Lashing out, he kicked the second one away, then shoved his way through the Infected to his Chosen. Reaching down through the throng, he closed his teeth on Veck's collar, hauling him up even as the undead continued to grasp at him.
And with Veck securely in tow, he burst into a gallop, injuries forgotten and hooves scrabbling for purchase against the cobblestone road.
And I have sense to recognize, but
I don't know how to let you go.
One thought was prevalent among the whirling inn his head: he should never have gone out On Search alone. He should have brought help. Then, maybe, all of this…
"It's… okay, Arles." Veck's voice was weak, gurgled slightly, but he tried to sound reassuring. "You did your best."
He had carried Veck by the back of his shirt, dragging him down the streets until they reached the outskirts of Tindale, at which point the young Companion had abandoned the road entirely, disappearing into the forest as quietly as possible. Now they were somewhere deep in the forest, both bloody and weak—both on death's door—both Infected.
They could never return to Haven, that much was certain.
Veck was on the ground, leaning back against a thick tree trunk, one hand up and clamped against his neck, though the blood continued to pour from the wound.
Veck's hand slipped against the slick skin of his neck, a splash of dark blood gushing between his fingers. He was beginning to look ashen, the color in his face bleeding away along with his life force. "Please … Arles, I don't want to end up like them…"
The fear and despair that flooded down the newly-formed Bond between them was like a hammer against Arles mind. It resonated in his heart and soul. It slammed into his very being, leaving him sore and feeling half-dead inside. And just the thought of—of doing what Veck was asking him to do—
:I—I can't! Veck—!:
But Veck shook his head, causing another short gush of blood down his neck. It soaked into his already-stained tunic and ran down his wrist and arm, skirting the edge of another deep bite wound that was situated just above his elbow, marring his quickly greying skin.
"Please. Don't let me—I don't want to—to come back like that." Veck's free hand lifted, reaching to touch Arles' leg, halfway between the Companion's ankle and knee. A moment later, when his arm fell back down, he left behind smears of crimson.
Arles' head lowered until he was breathing into Veck's hair. The boy smelled of hay from the barn, decay from the undead, and blood from his injuries. Arles knew he had a decision to make—and he also knew that it wasn't much of one. His course of action was obvious, considering how bad off his Chosen was, and how very far away from any kind of help they were. The nearest town was hours away, and even if there were still people alive there, Veck didn't have that kind of time.
The bites were a death sentence anyway.
So, gravely and with his heart breaking the entire time, Arles leaned in farther to tuck his nose and forehead into Veck's shirt. Veck's free hand lifted again, weak and shaky, and one arm wrapped around Arles' neck. They were both grieving already: despite having only met such a short time ago, the Bond between them was strong—hopefully strong enough to survive beyond this life and into eternity.
:I'm so sorry, Veck.:
"No… don't be. You came for me—and that's more—more than I ever expected."
:I… I love you, Chosen.:
"I love you, too, Arles."
Veck's arm slipped down off of Arles' neck, and the Companion was still for another short minute before lifting his head. Veck smiled up at him weakly—then closed his eyes, waiting for the end to come.
His heart breaking, Arles took a few shuddering breaths—then reared up on his hind legs. He threw his head back—forced himself to, now, before he could lose his nerve and deny Veck his last request—and then slammed his front hooves downward, bringing every bit of his weight down upon the boy he loved with all of his being, crushing his skull and ending his pain forever, staining his own coat with blood and flecks of torn flesh in the same instant.
:I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry!:
Another long moment. A handful more horrified, shaking, gasping breaths.
Then the pain from Veck's death: from the broken Bond hit him. He lifted his head, closed his eyes, and shrieked his loss to the heavens and whatever Gods had seen fit to tear his life in two as they had, heedless of the attention his pained scream would attract.
If they came for him, so be it. He wasn't sure he wanted to go on anymore anyway.
I don't know how to let you go.
In all the history of Valdemar, this had never happened. How could he even call himself a Companion? He had done the unthinkable—he had killed his own Chosen. That was breaking the cardinal rule of his kind. You protected your Chosen—through thick and thin—against anything and everything. You stood by them. And if, for some reason, the person you were Bonded to was not fit to be a Herald, there was the ever-feared repudiation. It was something to be avoided unless there was no other choice.
At worst, you cast them out. You did not kill them.
Now, Veck was dead, leaving Arles to stand over him, spattered with blood and gore, hide twitching in the Companion equivalent of raking sobs. He was a murderer. He was a murderer. And he couldn't even come to terms with that because of the void that now existed deep inside himself.
Still shaking uncontrollably, Arles allowed his legs to give up. He sank down into the bloodstained grass next to Veck's mangled body and curled himself around the boy's prone form, stretching his neck out to lay his head in the grass beside his Chosen. He closed his eyes. He would stay there with Veck—trembling, hurting, grieving—until the end came, one way or another.
A short time later when the first of the undead followed the scent of blood and found them, he didn't lift his head—and he didn't struggle when the rest of the ravenous horde descended on him moments later and began to eat him alive.
And in Haven, the death bell, so familiar of late, began to toll once more.
I don't know how to let you go.
Zombieverse!Valdemar is fun to write in. :3