V S M Downtime

Ahana Varma

General of Neo New Babylon
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Ahana had rested for a couple days following the conclusion of her last mission from Victor, figuring that she was owed a break. With those days now passed, she reported to his palace to find out which enemy he would send her off to brutalise next... only to be told gently but firmly by one of those half-naked maids of his that the emperor was out meeting with the high priest, that he would be away for some time, and that she should come back later.

For a moment, she considered killing the woman out of hand. People these days really seemed to be getting awfully flippant with her, and she was sure that a few public executions of random individuals who’d mildly irritated her in some way would be a great means of reminding the proletariat of their rightful places.

But no, she'd better not. That damned assassin would just end up whining at her if she started murdering civilians for fun. Especially if the civvies in question were part of his own staff. In fact, he might even go further if he was really annoyed, and slash her agency's budget. Which would be totally awful; she couldn't very well build the most merciless and unstoppable army in existence if that clueless bureaucrat decided to cut her funding, after all.

So she’d left peacefully, albeit while grumbling mutinously under her breath. She had then returned some time later, only to be told by a different maid that the emperor was now busy meeting with a promising new recruit named Cho, who could apparently use magic to dig tunnels, or some shit like that. She was barely listening while the lady gushed about how wonderful the rookie was, why they were so fortunate to have him on board, and something about him building a staircase. The moment she was able to get a word in, the bunnygirl excused herself and left, fuming.

She decided then that she’d just wait on Victor eventually realising that he’d not given her any fresh instructions in a while, and arranging a meeting with her himself, rather than bothering to try and contact him again. If he had so many apparently urgent matters to attend to then she wasn’t going to waste her time traipsing backwards and forwards from his palace every day until she happened to catch him before he could wander off.

In fact, now that she thought about it, this was a perfect excuse for her to slack off for a while.

***

Slacking off was easier said than done, though. Initially, she’d amused herself by tormenting Sapphiro, then, when he’d stormed off in a huff, she’d transitioned to messing with Nisse. He endured it for longer than his fellow tribesman, but eventually also got sick of being around her and went out ‘to get some fresh air’. She let him go, ignoring the absurdity his flimsy excuse, given that their city was built in a cavern, deep underground.

She then attempted to infuriate Reinhardt Margrave, as she had the other two. She did this despite knowing that it was almost certainly a dumb idea, what with him being by far and away the finest solider in her Veritable Armed Response Military Agency (VARMA), and so not really someone she ought to be risking losing, should he get pissed off enough to quit. Still, she was bored, and making logical decisions had never been her strong suit anyway.

Disappointingly (though fortunately, in the long run), she was unable to get a rise out of him. Unlike Sapphiro, who had recently lost a beloved relative, and Nisse, whose relationship with her was intimate enough for her to have figured out most of his insecurities, she didn’t really have any clue what to say to the brigadier to cause him to lose his temper.

Instead, she just wasted almost half an hour trying out generic insults, mocking him and making various offensive comments, only for Reinhardt to remain infuriatingly calm the entire time. Eventually, she’d been forced to give in and acknowledge that she’d lost this one.

After ordering him off to go do his own thing, somewhere she wouldn’t have to look at him, the general headed to their indoor training grounds, where she challenged her soldiers to fights, at first individually, then in increasingly large groups, as she figured it'd likely hurt their pride more (and give them a healthy respect for her power) to be beaten whilst vastly outnumbering her, rather than simply losing to her in single combat.

Sadly, maiming and crushing the skulls of immortals with near-inhuman levels of pain tolerance was a lot less satisfying than picking on the weak and helpless, who could be relied upon to scream and weep and beg for their pitiful lives to be spared, in a suitably entertaining manner. That thought gave her a bright idea, though, and she selected the half dozen soldiers whom she thought looked the most cruel and vindictive, and instructed them to follow her, whilst the others were told to return to whatever training they’d been working on prior to her arrival.

Once safely away somewhere private, Ahana looked over her sadistic six, and had to wonder if some of Victor’s racist tendencies were rubbing off on her. One of them was a savage woman with a lean, wiry build, whose loincloth and chest wrap seemed designed to cover as little as possible whilst still technically being able to be considered clothing. A second soldier was a huge, broad-shouldered, red-headed male miner in overalls… and the remaining four were all dwemer.

The four robed, bearded, elven men whom she’d picked had been standing together when she’d been making her selections, smirking about something. She’d gotten a sort of arrogant, contemptuous vibe from them, and so had simply picked the whole bunch. She hoped her gut instinct had been correct, and she wasn’t just unintentionally adopting the assassin’s stupid prejudices.

She was going out to have some fun, she told her merry band, and they were coming with her because someone of her rank was expected to be accompanied by lackeys at all times, and because they looked like they might be the sorts of people who’d appreciate what she had planned.

She had the four elves fetch her litter, then lift it onto their shoulders, with her aboard, whilst the other two took up positions to either side of them, ostensibly on the lookout for threats. Though as they were all essentially unkillable, this duty was a tad redundant. Now all ready to go, they set off out of their barracks and into the heart of Neo-Nippur, to see what fun they could have and what trouble could be stirred up.
 

Ahana Varma

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Some time later, outside the city

“Why are you doing this!?” screeched a weeping miner, as the bunnygirl’s pair of non-elven accomplices held him by one bicep each, both wearing awfully smug and sadistic expressions.

This guy was the sixth such person to be forced to participate in their game. It was a betting game that one of the dwemer had come up with, which involved Ahana using her Cherrywood Orbs of Desolation to punt captured civilians as far as she could, after making bets with her six subordinates about the distance they would travel.

The miner had had seven coworkers when they'd begun, but now he and two others were all that remained. The other two—a man and a woman––sat on the cave floor, hand-in-hand, trembling and sobbing. The miners had started out confused, then had become angry and defiant, but now had transitioned fully to despairing.

Overseeing those two were the four dwemer, brandishing swords. Ahana still lounged on the chair atop her litter, though the litter itself now sat on the ground.

She ignored the man's cry, having already answered that question previously. She didn't know why these miners kept asking her the same things again and again, as if expecting her answers to change. She was doing this because it was fun. Simple as that.

One of the Enfilade Orbs drifted down to hover just above her left shoulder, while the other five remained a few metres above her head, rapidly orbiting around nothing in particular. The sobbing man shrieked and babbled, struggling uselessly to break away.

His female captor slugged him in the gut and he whined, crumpling in on himself as she laughed. Then, her expression twisted into one of disgust, as a dark stain spread across the man's crotch.

"Ugh, disgusting!" the savage cried, leaning as far from him as she could while still maintaining a vice-like grip on his arm, "General, come on, we've all placed our bets, so send this guy flying already!"

Ahana laughed, and without her so much as pointing a finger, the enchanted, wooden cannonball over her shoulder rocketed forwards. It struck the scantily clad woman right in the sternum, and the miner who'd pissed himself screamed in agony as his arm was wrenched from its socket. Thankfully for him, though, she wasn't strong enough to tear it from his body completely when she was sent soaring through the air, and she lost her grip.

"Huh?" asked the big ex-miner who'd been helping the woman hold their prisoner, and at least a couple of the dwemer. The bunnygirl wasn't sure which of the elves had spoken up, though, as her gaze was fixed upon her victim. The savage lady wasn't screaming, though that might have had more to do with crushed ribs and punctured lungs than bravery.

"Bet she didn't see that coming." the general said, before chuckling lightly. In the distance, the woman struck the ground with a sickening crunch.

"Alright, big guy, you're up, go check the distance." Ahana instructed casually. The soldier in overalls flinched, having been standing stock still, staring after the savage.

"U-uh, yes, boss… but what about this guy?" he gestured towards the captive, who was kneeling on the ground, sobbing his eyes out, one arm limp and useless, the other still in her thug's grasp.

"Oh, right, him. I forgot." another sphere lashed downwards from the cluster high above, the air cracking as it exceeded the speed of sound. Then the worthless loser's head was annihilated, splattering the soldier holding him in blood and offal. Unlike when she had calmly addressed him a moment prior, this violent display didn't seem to shock him in the slightest.

After casting one last, scornful glance at the decapitated corpse, he released the lifeless arm he held, then turned and strode off, looking down at the ground to count the scratches they'd carved into it at regular intervals, which served as distance indicators.

The spheres rose back up into the air, then, after a moment, the bunnygirl looked away from the departing figure, over at the dwemer and their captives, who were wailing loudly, "Can't you shut them up somehow?"

"Well, we could always cut out their tongues, I guess?" one elf remarked, shrugging.

She nodded and waved a hand, turning back, "Good idea, you do that."

The screams rose in volume. Several seconds later, the elf coughed awkwardly. She glanced over again, and he gave her an apologetic look, “Uh, so, that didn’t work. I guess people can still scream without tongues.”

“You made them louder.” she said flatly, causing him to wince.

“Ah, don’t worry, General Varma, Sir, this is totally under control. We’ll just sew their lips together, that’ll definitely keep them quiet.”

“Well, get on with it, then, listening to screams is only entertaining for so long before they start getting irritating.”

“Of course, right away!”

As soon as she averted her gaze once more, the agonised shrieks somehow amped up in volume yet again, and Ahana wondered what kind of inhuman lung capacity that couple had. She was pretty sure they weren’t even pausing for breath any more.

And then the elf gave another cough. Slowly, she turned her head to face him. He was standing rigidly at attention, face pale, while his three friends tried their best to hide behind him. The two captives now each had a ring of bloody holes perforating the skin around their lips, which were clearly not sewn shut.

“Well?” she asked archly.

“Erm… so it turns out we don’t actually have any string or twine or thread that we could tie their lips shut with.”

She sighed, and an orb smacked into his head with enough force to splatter it all over everything and everyone in the general vicinity. The bunnygirl licked some blood from her lips, and picked a small piece of brain matter from her hair, which she then flicked away.

Golden flames had already burst forth from the stump of the fallen soldier’s neck, and were working with ardent alacrity to reconstruct his head, but she ignored him, looking at the other three instead. The captives finally seemed to have ceased their wailing, possibly due to shock, but she couldn’t hope for that to last, “So, do any of you have any ideas?”

“Er, um…” mumbled one of the dwemer nervously, raising his hand slightly, like a schoolchild who thought they had an answer but were unsure if they actually wanted the teacher to pick them. She stared at him. He gulped, then continued, “we could just, uh, gag them?”

Now that he said it, that was actually a blatantly obvious answer, wasn't it? Perhaps more hideously painful methods didn't always equate to more efficient ones?

“Alright, give it a shot.” she said, nodding and facing forwards once more. The big guy was heading back now, with the savage lady slung over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes, though they were still some distance away.

After a little more noise, the cries and sobs of the prisoners were muffled. It seemed that the gag plan had worked like a charm.
 
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Ahana Varma

General of Neo New Babylon
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I grunt in pain when the huge git unceremoniously tosses me down onto the cold, hard floor of the cavern. I glare venomously up at him for a moment, to little effect, as he ignores me completely, his dull, brain-dead gaze fixed on that psychotic general of ours.

He's such a clueless oaf, and such a typical bully. Sure, he’s all big and tough, but there’s not a sliver of bravery in his body. He might be perfectly happy to stand up to those weaker than himself, but ultimately, when confronted by someone stronger, he has no qualms about sacrificing anyone and everyone around him if it means getting a chance to suck up to them.

Just look at how quickly he turned on me. He doesn't even know why that crazy bitch, Varma, attacked me, but now he’s treating me like dirt. If I’ve done something to anger the boss, then he doesn’t want to be associated with me. Would he ever think to ask for my side of the story? No, of course not.

My name is Lazuli. I’m a member of a gemstone-obsessed tribe who’ve lived beneath the surface of Inverxe for as long as anyone can remember. Possibly dozens of generations, if not hundreds. But our isolation ended when a certain rabbit-eared nutcase and her companions showed up in our cave one day, and within the week they had declared themselves our leaders.

Now I’m part of an army consisting of many of my fellow tribesfolk, some former miners, and a whole lot of dwemer. I was recently chosen for a mission to accompany our bunny-brained boss as she wandered the tunnels outside our city of Neo-Nippur in search of random civilians to tortune and kill.

I've gotta admit, though, that whatever her faults, the general seems to be a pretty decent judge of character, as none of us she brought along have turned out to be the sort of people who care in the slightest about the wellbeing of others. Actually, the rest of them all seem to be enjoying watching the civvies suffer. Those sick fucks.

What's that? I was also grinning as I watched innocent men and women being brutally murdered? Okay, okay, so maybe I’m a teensy, tiny bit sadistic too. Sue me.

Actually, please don’t. I’ve already gambled away all my last month’s pay, as well as most of my belongings, so I can’t really afford to be sued. To my people, owning a lot of crystalline jewellery is a sign of pride, so it’s vitally important that I spend all of this month’s pay on winning back my stuff. I can't afford to waste any of it on lawsuits.

But right now I have more important things to worry about than gemstones. I get to my feet, hands balled into firsts, glaring spitefully at the smirking bunnygirl who lounges on her wooden throne, utterly unconcerned by my rage. Out of the corner of an eye, I notice the four dwemer soldiers with us gazing hungrily over at me, our surviving captives all but forgotten.

Given that my attire is rather risque even by our tribe’s standards, I’m no stranger to being stared at by men, but this is a little different from normal. Those freaks aren’t attracted to my body, they just want to watch me suffer and hear me scream as Varma beats me to a bloody pulp for whatever imagined offence that delusional nutcase thinks I’ve committed.

Logically, I suppose that I shouldn't really be annoyed at them, as I’d surely be looking at any of them in the exact same way, were our positions reversed. But fuck logic, I don't care if it makes me a hypocrite, I hate those damned cunts.

Instead of addressing me, Varma turns to that stupid brute, “Well, how far?”

“A hundred and forty-eight yards.” the big thug says, a hint of sullenness entering his tone. One of the dwemer cheers. The bunnybitch purses her lips, a frown crossing her face for a fraction of a second, before her smirk returns.

None of us even consider that the bastard could be lying, of course. Not even he could possibly be stupid enough to deceive our leader just to make a little money (though in this case he didn't actually make anything; it was that elf guy who won). Even I wouldn’t be that greedy, and I’m way more into gambling than anyone else here. Hell, I had to offer a lot of my sister's gems as collateral just to get into this game, what with me being completely broke and all. Hopefully she takes that well when she finds out.

Turning back to face me, an innocent expression on her face, Varma asks in a saccharine-sweet tone, “What’s with the death glare, soldier? Is something wrong?”

“Damn straight there’s something wrong!” I rage, too furious to care that my outburst might upset the lunatic. Is she seriously just going to pretend like nothing happened? “You just attacked me for no reason, you fucking, psycho bitch!”

For a long moment, the General of Neo New Babylon does not react. Then, very slowly, and without the rest of her expression changing in the slightest, she raises one eyebrow. The other soldiers, and even the two prisoners, are not so subtle. All seven of them openly gawk at me.

As my brain catches up to my mouth, sweat beads on my forehead, and I’m sure my face must be going white as a sheet. My fists unclench and my squared shoulders slump, all my muscles going slack. Without saying a word, Varma looks away, casting her gaze across at the gagged man and woman.

An instant after her eyes lock onto them, the first orb descends. And then a second. And a third. And so on. Immediately after striking one of the pair somewhere on his or her body, the sphere which has made contact rises up, only to descend once more a second or so later.

Screams fill the air, despite the gags in our victims’ mouths, along with the sounds of cracking bones and wood smacking against flesh. Their deaths are much slower than those of their companions. When it’s finally over, the six wooden balls slowly rise up from the thoroughly brutalised mounds of pulped meat, which are now unrecognisable as ever having once been human beings. Thick, bloody goop drips from the orbs.

The nutcase turns back to face me again, her expression still unchanged. I’m aware that I’m trembling now, and my vision blurs as tears threaten to spill down my cheeks. I swallow, albeit with some difficulty, as my mouth has gone dry.

The four sadistic elves look at me with a mixture of scorn and glee in their expressions now, while the big guy’s look is pure contempt; the only hint that he’s enjoying this spectacle being the gleam in his beady, little eyes. I’d probably be outraged at them all if I wasn’t so petrified.

“Well? You were saying something?” Varma asks, her voice dripping with smug self-satisfaction. That psychotic rabbit is way too powerful for anyone to have a hope of stopping her from doing whatever the hell she wants, and she knows it.

I only really have one option here. Well, one option other than “die horribly”.

I fall to my knees, ignoring the cracking noise and twin jolts of pain as they strike the solid, stone floor, and immediately kowtow before her, slamming my forehead into the ground as well. I say something or other, but even I can’t keep track of what that is. I’m babbling. Begging for forgiveness after she was the one who punted me halfway down a tunnel for no reason. This is so humiliating. I don’t stop, though.

Eventually, something prods my forehead and I close my mouth. The psycho doesn’t say a thing, but keeps prodding me. I raise my head and find the toes of her right foot in front of my eyes. She wiggles them. I raise my head higher and see the condescending smirk plastered to her stupid, smug face.

“Kiss my foot and I’ll magnanimously forgive your transgression.” the bunnybitch tells me.

To my shame, I don’t hesitate for a moment. I also don’t want to appear reluctant, so I kiss her bare foot repeatedly until she laughs and retracts it. My face is burning and the four elves are sniggering. Even the big brute is… actually, no, his perpetual glower remains exactly the same as usual. His eyes look a bit less glazed, though, so he’s probably laughing internally.

Staring at my feet, so as not to accidentally meet anyone’s gaze, I stand back up, feeling lower than dirt.

After one last chuckle, Ahana Varma leans forward in her seat and issues her next command, “Alright, well, this has been fun, but I reckon it’s about time we wrap it up. Dwemer, grab the litter, you other two, start collecting the corpses…”

From the corner of an eye, I see her gaze slowly shift to the pulped mess that was once two people, “Well, gather as much of them as you can. We’re gonna have to head down the tunnels until we find a monster or something. Then we feed the bodies to it, kill it, bring it back with us to serve as a scapegoat, and as far as anyone knows, we’re heroes for avenging these poor, unfortunate citizens.”

Our psychotic commander snickers to herself as the elves pick up her litter, and the thug and I head over to the heap of mauled flesh and shattered bone that we’re supposed to somehow carry.
 

Ahana Varma

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I must admit, I wasn’t too pleased to be told that my friends and I were to carry the general’s chair when we first headed off for our little outing. I thought the only reason she had chosen us was because, as a group of four, male dwemer, we all roughly resembled one another in appearance, and she'd figured that a matching set would be appropriate as litter-bearers.

After having found out what we were doing on our trip, I realised that there must have been a little more to it than I had initially suspected; she’d also chosen us because she assumed we were sadistic enough to enjoy abducting and murdering innocent civilians.

I'd had no idea our boss was such a good judge of character.

Still, even at that point, I remained a little miffed at being told to carry her about. I envied those two humans who got to walk by our sides, free of the weighty burden placed on my friends and I.

But I got over that real quick when they were told to lug around the corpses of the leader’s victims. The big guy, Olaf, doesn’t seem to be having any trouble, despite his arms being full of what’s left of the couple who got mashed into blobs of formless gunk, and having another four bodies draped across his shoulders. He’s soaked in blood and most likely other bodily fluids as well, but doesn’t seem to have a problem with that.

I don’t think he’s very bright, to be honest. Might’ve been dropped on his head as a kid.

The other corpse-carrier, though, is a different matter. A savage woman who wears barely anything even by the near non-existent standards of her primitive tribe, Lazuli is weighed down by only two bodies, but seems to be having a much harder time of it than her fellow human. Her build is definitely athletic, but she’s not nearly as big as some of the freakishly large women from her village, and as a result, she can barely stay on her feet.

She doesn’t meet our gazes when we try to catch her eyes, and ignores our sniggering. She was much more feisty before being forced to kiss the boss lady's foot. Now, Laz just does her best to ignore us, always looking away, her face flushed red with embarrassment.

Wait, actually, maybe that red colour is just the blood which has gushed out of the corpses, covering her from head to toe? No, no, I’m positive there are some gaps in the liquid, through which I can see her skin, burning with shame.

We carry on in this manner for some time, wandering through deserted tunnels, getting further and further from the city, until eventually General Varma starts grumbling and moaning to herself about how long this is taking. None of us in our little squad are suicidal enough to point out to her that her habit of ruthlessly massacring every group who even think about settling within miles of Neo-Nippur is likely the reason why everything living seems to have vacated the area.

Thankfully, we do eventually come across something. Bunnyboss breaks into a broad, beaming grin at the sight of them; those mindless killing machines who can always be relied upon to wander about aimlessly until they run into something stronger than them and get violently dismembered to death. The necromorphs.

One of the first ones to arrive on the scene is some sort of freaky zombie-baby, which lunges out of the darkness and begins gnawing on one of my ears. It hurts a bit, but I just ignore it.

“Oh, look, necromorphs.” I say, cheerily pointing out the obvious to everyone as over a dozen of them ambush us.

I have a sword hanging from my belt, but don’t even bother trying to draw it, knowing that the general won’t be happy if we drop her litter because I’m busy flailing around trying to kill what’s already dead.

Unfortunately, the two of my mates holding up the rear end of the general’s ride aren’t quite as bright as myself and the other guy up front, George. He and I share a mildly exasperated glance, while the morons at the back attempt to fight back as they're set upon by the undead, and the two corpse-carriers drop their loads to join the scrum.

The boss just stands up, throws back her head and laughs, cackling madly as her wooden balls of speedy death careen crazily about the tunnel, rebounding off walls, shattering stalactites, and only occasionally hitting an actual enemy. It’s not even a narrow tunnel, and the golden flames that burn brightly around all our injuries ensure that it’s anything but dimly lit, so she doesn’t really have an excuse for hitting random objects so often. She probably thinks the battle will look cooler if she demolishes some scenery.

A necromorph with big spikes growing out of its wrists, which I believe is called a slasher, lives up to its name by charging up to me and disembowelling me with a single swing of an arm.

Then it pauses.

I follow its gaze down to my navel, where my guts have been sucked back into my stomach and the wound has sealed shut.

Experimentally, the undead swings with its other arm, as if that could somehow be expected to have a different result. I can’t actually see my belly healing over this time, as the zombie baby gives up on my ever-regenerating ear and turns to climb onto my face, before scooping out an eyeball in one of its tiny hands, then popping the gooey mess into its mouth.

I must admit, that causes me to wince and grit my teeth. All soldiers in the boss’s army have pretty high pain tolerance, and I like to think that mine is above average even for us… but having an eye plucked out really stings.

By comparison, the slasher slicing madly at my midriff is barely even noticeable… though annoyingly, it does seem to be making some headway, the speed of its attacks outpacing my rate of regeneration. I sigh.

Thankfully, before it can get through all my organs and sever my spine, which would result in me falling and dropping my corner of the litter, my two buddies at the back, Isaac and Keith, are overwhelmed and their end slips to the ground. Ahana’s laughter cuts off abruptly as she gives a surprised little yelp, stumbles backwards, and topples over her big chair, falling into the mass of zombies currently piling onto my mates.

Peeling the necrobaby off my head, I distractedly slap the entrail-assaulter in the face with it a couple times, while chuckling as I look back at the spot where I reckon the boss and my buddies should be. Those two are gonna get such a thrashing when this is all over, I just know it. If she was pissed at Laz for dissing her then there’s no way she’ll be pleased with them after they caused her to tumble into a gaggle of ghouls.
 

Ahana Varma

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From my position, lying belly-down on the cave floor, surrounded by dismembered and pulverised necromorph corpses, I flip a middle finger at George and Evan, who’re sniggering at Isaac and I, as the boss unjustly tortures us for our perfectly understandable failure to hold up her stupid litter whilst being assaulted by a mob of undead abominations.

A moment later, I grunt in pain as my hand is crushed and all its bones shattered to pieces by the impact of one of Varma’s orbs.

“Hey, don’t ignore me when I’m torturing you.” the bunnygirl whines petulantly from atop her wooden throne, pouting like a huffy child.

“It’s their fault!” I complain, pointing at my two friends with my undamaged hand, while the other one is wreathed in golden flame and begins reconstructing itself, “If they weren’t laughing then I’d not be distracted.”

The general snorts dismissively, “Don’t make excuses, it’s so childish.”

“I don’t want to hear that from you!” I snap back before I can think better of it.

An instant later, a wooden sphere strikes the back of my head with the force of a cannonball, annihilating my skull and showering the area in tiny slivers of bone.


***


I gulp, gazing sidelong at Isaac through wide eyes. Gilded fire already covers the stump of his neck and the ground around where the orb impacted. That guy really needs to learn to watch his mouth.

Ahana’s gaze slides over to me and I give her a weak smile, before a different sphere strikes my lower back with enough force to snap my spine. I cry out in pain, and her lips turn up at the corners, her eyes gleaming.

Truthfully, after all our rigorous training in raising our pain tolerance, I could probably shrug this off with no more than a grunt, just as Isaac did when she smashed his hand… but its clear that she’s abusing us for her own satisfaction, and if she’s anything like my friends and I, I’m sure she’d prefer to hear screams from her torture victims than mere grunts. So I’m playing along, in the hopes that she’ll be satisfied more swiftly if I do.

Over to my left, along with Evan and George, the two humans are also watching. Their names are Lazuli and Olaf, if I remember correctly. The savage looks a little pale, no doubt contemplating how easily she could have ended up in the same position as us. If she’d been just a little more hesitant to beg the general for forgiveness, that might’ve been enough for our glorious leader to decide to teach her a lesson.

Olaf, on the other hand, wears the same vacant yet murderous expression as always, though his beady eyes gleam with sadistic satisfaction, which is as close to an actual display of emotion as I’ve seen so far from that brainless thug.

I don’t pay them any heed, though, only spying the four from the corner of an eye, keeping my gaze fixed on our commander. I put on a pleading expression and reach out to her with one hand, as if begging for forgiveness. She giggles and a sphere strikes the crook of my arm, smashing my elbow into the stone floor of the cavern with more than enough force to pulverise it utterly.

I shriek again, and notice George rolling his eyes while Evan whispers something into his ear. They both know me well enough to tell that I’m seriously overreacting when I cry out like this, but I hope they won’t say anything to General Varma. She’s having fun right now, and it’d be a shame to spoil this for her.

She’s actually pretty cute when she smiles like that.


***


I enjoy watching Varma torture those two elves for a little bit, but after hearing the other couple whispering, I realise that the one doing most of the screaming is just putting on an act so that the general will decide he's been punished sufficiently more quickly than she otherwise might. I consider telling her this, but if she realises she’s been fooled then she might take out her anger on all of us who’ve seen it happen. Also, no one likes a snitch. If I tell on them now then she may think I’ll go to the emperor and tell him what she was doing today. And that won’t end well for me.

So no, spilling the beans is not a good idea. Instead, I hold my tongue until she’s done.

“Alrighty then, I reckon that’s enough of that for now.” Varma says eventually, slapping her palms together as if dusting off her hands, despite having not actually used them at all, since all she did was bludgeon the pair with those floating balls of hers, “Let’s head back home. Mission accomplished.”

“Uh, but… what about the bodies, General?” Lazuli asks nervously, clearly still worried about being punished for her earlier impertinence, yet apparently also concerned enough about covering our tracks to risk Varma's ire by questioning her decision, “Weren’t we going to feed them to some sort of big monster?”

I don’t know why she bothers. Even if what happened here is found out, the emperor will only blame Varma. And maybe Brigadier Margrave, for not having the foresight to stop her. Ordinary soldiers like us are beneath his notice.

“Nah, it’s fine.” the general replies, waving a hand dismissively, “For a pack this size to have shown up all at once, there must be loads of necromorphs wandering these tunnels, so even if their reanimation thing doesn’t transfer from being near dead ones, which it might for all I know, some others will probably be along soon to raise the more intact bodies, and what’s left over will likely be eaten if there are any of those feasters in-”

“Feeders.”

Varma’s eyes narrow at the much too impulsive savage, who is now covering her mouth with both hands and staring, wide-eyed at the general, apparently having realised too late to stop the words from leaving her mouth that correcting an overpowered, immortal sadist was a bad idea. I glare at her and all four dwemer look her way with disbelieving expressions. Seriously, even for a member of a tribe so primitive that they never figured out how to work metal, this woman is stupid.

I subtly edge away from her, as the bearded elves do the same. We're better safe than sorry if those orbs are about to start launching themselves again.

“If there are any feeders in any groups of necromorphs which cross through here in future, then they’ll eat whatever’s left. So that should be fine. No one should ever find out the truth… unless you’ve noticed any other mistakes I’ve made which you’d like to point out?” Varma’s voice is like ice, and Lazuli trembles, her eyes watering as she shakes her head rapidly.

“Good.” the general taps the armrest of her chair, “Bearers, lift me. Let’s go.”

The four dwemer rush to comply, and I move to walk beside the litter as we head off. I don’t so much as glance back at the tribeswoman, but I can hear her shaky breaths growing fainter behind us for several seconds, before she manages to calm down and they’re replaced by the light slapping of her bare feet on stone as she hurries to catch up.
 

Ahana Varma

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“So you’ve returned.” a smooth, masculine voice says as we carry the boss through the wide doors and into the compound.

The six of us soldiers turn to face the speaker before hurriedly straightening up, our postures stiffening as we do our best to appear professional and disciplined. Up atop the littler, I feel the sudden motion as Varma also stiffens, though her surprise lasts only a moment, before she slouches again.

“Heeey, Reinhardt, how’s it going?” the boss asks amiably, and I feel her weight shifting as she leans over the armrest of her chair.

“How is it going? Well, it could be better,” the brigadier responded drily, “such as if, for instance, a certain general had not decided to go off gallivanting around the tunnels rather than attending her lessons.”

Lessons? I don’t have a death wish, so I refrain from interrupting their conversation to ask why the boss should be having to study, though I share a confused glance with Isaac, who is standing ahead of me on the right side of the litter. Keith and Evan are on the opposite sides from he and I, respectively. As we’re currently facing to the right, where Margrave stands by the wall, right next to the entranceway, I can’t see their reactions without turning my head 180 degrees… which would be a bit too obvious.

I’d rather not draw his attention to myself, given that he currently seems to be perfectly content to ignore the rest of us to chide the boss… which I didn’t realise he could do, what with being her subordinate and all. It makes me wonder if maybe there’s more to their relationship than just work.

“Lessons? What lessons? I don’t remember anything about having any lessons today.” wow, I had no idea General Varma was such a transparent liar.

“Uh-huh.” the brigadier says, his tone somewhere between weary and amused, “Well, luckily for you, I was able to convince your tutor to wait around until you returned from your outing… even if it did require paying him twice his normal fee.”

“What!?” the bunny yells, and I can tell from the sudden jerking motion that she has just sat bolt upright. Judging by the reaction, I’m guessing this tutor person must be extremely costly, “That idiot charges a fee!? Seriously? If anything, he should be paying me for forcing me to sit through all that tedious droning he calls teaching!”

Oh-kay. Not the reaction I was expecting.

It hasn’t even been a full day since I was chosen to come along with Varma for this little outing of hers, and I’ve already been around her long enough to see that she’s very different from the fearless, bloodthirsty commander I had previously considered her to be.

Well, I suppose she is fearless and bloodthirsty, but aside from that, she’s also lazy, childish, and not particularly bright. It makes me wonder if our boss actually has any redeeming qualities at all.

“Yes, he charges a fee. Whether you appreciate his help or not, he needs to make a living just like anyone else. Now, come along.” Margrave responds patiently.

“Don’t wanna.” the bunnygirl huffs, and even without looking up at her, I’m certain she’s pouting. So immature, “I haven’t eaten in hours. Dinner first, then I’ll study.”

“No, you will not. If you are allowed to eat first then you will only come up with some other excuse after your meal. You can take your lessons now, then eat.”

“You’re such a tyrant!” the general moans, and a pair of her orbs rocket towards the brigadier, who side-steps the foremost, while drawing his blade as fast as lightning, to deflect the other. Both slam into the floor with enough force to leave shallow craters. His arm is jerked back slightly by the force of the impact, but his expression remains passive.

“Ugh! Fine! I’ll study, but you’d better have a really nice meal ready for me afterwards!” Varma continues petulantly.

“Of course, general.” Margrave replies, nodding, “Come with me.”

“Follow him.” the boss grumbles, and we do so. He glances back at her.

“Are you really so lazy that you cannot even walk through a few rooms without being carried?” oddly, there isn’t any hint of judgement in the old elf’s tone.

“No!” Varma objects defensively, “I’m not lazy! I just… um… I just figured it’d make sense for the people who're going to be carrying me around to learn magic too. It could be useful to them… probably. I think.”

Really?” this time, Margrave’s voice holds a trace of amusement.

“Uh... yes. Yes! Obviously someone as great as I am would never be lazy! You should know better than to even ask that! This was really totally absolutely the only reason I wanted them to come along.” it’s so obvious that she’s lying that a deaf and blind person could’ve picked up on it.

Reihardt Margrave doesn’t call her out on her lie, though. Instead, he nods, “I see. A fine idea, general.”

“It is? I mean, yeah, of course it is, I came up with it, after all!”

“Quite. Now, what about these two who aren’t helping carry your litter? Would you like them to be trained in magic as well?”

“No, they didn’t drop me into a fucking mob of undead, so they don’t need to suffer through this.”

“Hm?” the brigadier is facing forwards again, so I can’t see his expression, and his tone gives nothing away.

“Um, I mean… they performed admirably with their weapons, so there’s no need to try and teach them anything different; they’ll surely be more useful to Neo New Babylon if they continue to perfect their current skills instead.”

I guess Evan and I aren’t getting off completely without punishment, despite not actually being to blame for her having fallen… oh well, having to sit through a few tedious lessons can’t be that bad. We managed to avoid being tortured, so that’s what matters most. Plus, it would be pretty neat to be able to do magic, if we do actually manage to learn any.

“I see. Then good work, soldiers. You seem to have impressed General Varma, so I am sure I will be seeing more of you in future. For the time being, though, you are dismissed.” the brigadier says cordially, turning his head to look back at Laz and Olaf, who salute, before turning to leave.

I wonder about his words. It must’ve been just as obvious to him as it was to me that the boss was lying about them having performed particularly well, so why mention seeing them again? Does he know something that the rest of us don’t?
 
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