Title: Going off the Record
Part: Interlude (between 6 and 7)
Fandom: Guilty Gear
Warnings: Alternate Timeline beginning around GGX, now with boom and stabbity
I | II | III | IV | V | Interlude I | VI | Interlude II | VII | Interlude III | VIII (First Half, Second Half) | IX | X (First Half, Second Half)
Going off the Record
There's something about blue
Asked myself what it's all for
You know the funny thing about it
I couldn't answer
~ Yoko Kanno, Blue
It was a very serious affair.
An echoing hall that amplified every whisper, dust swirling in the dim light of the stained glass windows, heavy wing doors that required four men to close, and fell shut with appropriately fatalistic boom. A notary, a promoter of justice, three judges and their respective assessors, all clad in heavy, wide-shouldered robes, a golden stole draped around the judges' necks to denote their position. No defender, not that there was a need for one.
The judges remained seated in the pulpit, an ancient codex opened in front of them, stony and motionless as the promoter stated his case, so that with only slight absent-mindedness, they could have been mistaken for one of the marble carvings — saints and martyrs surrounded by a faded halo of leaf gilding, gazing dispassionately down at the accused, their fingers lifted in silent warning.
In the name of the Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness the Pope...
If he concentrated hard enough, Andreyev could pick out some figures he knew, fragments of memory from the Sunday Bible lessons of his childhood and the hearth-fire readings of his grandmother. Saint Paul shrouded in a toga, holding one of his epistles, Saint Sebastian tied to a withered tree and speared by a dozen arrows, the deeply lined face of Antipas of Pergamum, whom he remembered solely because being steamed alive in a brazen bull was something to remember a man by.
...and by the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles...
All in all, much too pompous a setting for a handful of soldiers, none of them important enough to so much as breathe in the direction of the judges. Half of them didn't even exceed the rank of sergeant. If he leaned forward just a bit, he could see the face of the radio girl a few seats down the bench — Tatyana, she'd insisted when she'd first transferred, from a tiny village where everyone called each other by first name — pale and wide-eyed like a rabbit lined up for slaughter, her white-knuckled fists tangled in the fabric of her coat.
She shouldn't have been here, eighteen and freshly promoted and just following orders because Gorsky had told her to shut up and Andreyev had told her to help. Nothing that warranted her sitting in the dock with senior officers, when all she'd done was huddle in hiding with a handful of papers to let someone know that the world had gone crazy.
He would have said as much, would have tried to spare her from being convicted for treason, except this wasn't about justice. It was about setting an example.
...it has been decided to mete out the sentence in accordance with the gravity of the defendants' crimes.
There had been no plan, but all of them seemed to have collectively decided not to speak, anyway, to let the trial proceed in silence. Partly because they knew, like Andreyev, that their voices meant nothing to this court, that any word would be wasted breath, and partly because there was nothing else to do but refuse to speak when told to repent, that God would show mercy to those that would acknowledge the error of their ways.
It wasn't the smartest decision, perhaps, but he'd never been about smart decisions, didn't need to ask to know that those on the bench with him were thinking the same thing, had seen the shadows of parents and children staring out at them from the tear-stained faces of the refugees. Condemning people to death wasn't what he'd signed up for.
The defendants shall be stripped of their rank, and sent to scout the Eastern outlands... where they shall remember the words of He who lives for ever and ever, who created the Heavens and all that is in them, and the earth and all that is in it, who bestowed upon us the will to victory, so that they may realize there is no price too great to perform His miracle.
The hammer fell like thunder. In unison, the judges rose, descending the steps of the pulpit as the great doors opened, their gaze not once straying from an indefinite point straight ahead of them, removed from mortal concerns. Andreyev didn't watch them go, his eyes instead on the ashen faces of his co-conspirators. His mind had been swept dry by a desert wind, leaving him gutted and hollow in its wake, unable to even experience sympathy.
The Order didn't do dishonorable discharge. Not when they were burning through recruits almost faster than they could be trained, when preachers all across the land were urging women to have more children, when boys couldn't age fast enough until they were finally able to wield a sword. Those guilty of misconduct were demoted, but not expelled, and those that became a problem quietly received reassignments, from which few ever returned. The outlands were the place for traitors and heretics, the many miles of land where countries were either too weak or the terrain was too difficult to keep up any steady defense, and only one thing roamed in abundance.
He should have been feeling anger, some kind of incandescent rage, or fear, but it all paled in comparison to the sense of finality welling up inside him. This was the face of forgiveness, the shield of divine protection, this was humanity — where struggles were only worthy in accordance with the Word, where things like the life and death of thousands meant nothing, if indeed they had ever meant anything at all.
It was only afterwards, out in the sunshine, watching the leaves dance along the pathways in specks of color, that a sense of the immediate situation came flooding back to him. From his perch on the railing of the stone steps, he could watch his subordinates gathering around in a half-circle to stare aimlessly at the gravel to their feet. The young corporal was sniffling and rubbing at her eyes, one of the pilots hesitantly reaching out to pat her shoulder and offering her a handkerchief, while the rest of them were fumbling for words — unable to make sense of such a world, where fates were decided behind closed doors while everything else moved on, unaware and uncaring.
Andreyev tilted his face towards the sky, wide and bright out of the shadow of the buildings, with that special autumn clarity that made it seem like there was nothing keeping it from just descending upon the earth and swallowing it whole.
He'd wanted a moment alone, selfishly, but there was nothing else he could do when he was still feeling like he'd been grabbed by a giant hand and shaken, until everything around him was reduced to a dizzying blur. A bad decision, perhaps, when his team needed him — but that was over, wasn't it? They weren't his team any longer.
And still, Andreyev thought bitterly, they had to be glad it had turned out like this. In a twisted way, the sentence was indeed merciful, when the judges could have just as easily decided on excommunication — and could, still, at any sign of further disobedience. Most of his team had parents to protect and children to feed, for whom even the meager pay of a simple foot soldier was better than nothing. Or, like him, they still had friends, a place they wanted to keep safe. Nothing worse to imagine, then, that your family or your home were no longer entitled to protection from the Church because of your actions — no community to lend them strength, no doctors to treat them, no soldiers to save them in case of a raid.
Shaking his head, Andreyev closed his eyes against the expanse of blue, its vastness suddenly too much to bear. Now that he had the time to reflect on it, he was sure there should have been another way, a better way to disagree and save Moscow. Maybe if things hadn't been happening so fast, or so violently, maybe if he'd had the foresight or the skill or just the goddamn common sense not to end up in a cell.
If nothing else, he ought to at least find the words to convey how sorry he was... how sorry he would be for signing the death sentence of so many good soldiers. And if there weren't any, invent them.
The voice startled him badly, and he floundered for a moment, trying to catch his balance against the railing. He hadn't expected to be addressed in these venerable halls, and when he caught sight of the speaker, it was all he could do not to make an even bigger fool of himself. Stepping out of the cloister, Commander Kiske smiled apologetically, gesturing for him to remain seated before a salute could bring him into an even more precarious position. Andreyev hadn't even heard him approach, wasn't entirely sure if that was because he'd been so out of it or because the Commander was in the habit of simply appearing, there one moment and gone the next.
He looked younger somehow, less impressive than Andreyev remembered, with a childlike roundness to his cheeks that he hadn't noticed before — young enough to pass for one of the trainees wandering the grounds, the markings on his collar the only sign of his rank. That, and his voice, ever calm as he directed men through hell, carrying an unfaltering conviction that required no grand words to ring true.
Now was no exception, his tone quiet but firm as he turned his gaze to watch the group of soldiers. "Don't try to apologize. Loyalty is the greatest gift you can hope to receive. If people follow you willingly, knowing the cost... It never gets any easier to accept, but... try to treasure what they have entrusted to you."
Andreyev blinked, unsure how to talk to someone who was already well on his way to becoming a legend, now that there was no battle happening that dictated what he would say, and not entirely convinced that the Commander couldn't read minds. After Moscow, anything seemed possible.
There was probably a pretty stupid expression on his face, because the Commander shook his head as he turned back, a hint of knowing gentleness in the quirk of his lips. "It's not all that hard to tell what is weighing on your mind, Lieutenant."
"...I'm sorry, sir."
The honest incredulity managed to chase away the last illusion of someone much older, all wide eyes and baffled squinting that made Andreyev reach back into his memory, rifling through the tales he'd heard of Commander Undersen's star pupils, children with exceptional abilities raised to pave the way to the future. It made him wonder just how young they were picked, when it was so easy to see his youngest sister in that face now, barely fourteen and just as guileless.
The spell was broken when the Commander lowered his gaze, a frown lingering between his brows. "I must have chosen the wrong words, then. I had actually hoped to put you at ease, somewhat." He paused. "No matter. The reason I came was to express regrets of my own. I was hoping they would be satisfied with concentrating the investigation on my person. It shouldn't have turned out like this. I am truly sorry."
"Sir?" A part of Andreyev was trying to come up with something more intelligent to say, but was repeatedly derailed by the realization that the acting commander of the army of the world was apologizing to him. "Did you... I mean, are you in trouble because of us, sir?"
"Not because of you, Lieutenant. I am responsible for my own actions."
He shrugged, an ease to the motion as if he were recalling a trivial event, like all the pomp and gravity meant nothing, and Andreyev realized that this was the reason they'd come after his people in the first place — revenge, some kind of hurt pride, because it was impossible to touch the Commander when they needed him to keep bringing the wins. He'd known for a good while that the Order wasn't all idealism and purity, but now he began to realize just how deep the chasms ran between word and action, how much you couldn't see until you rose high enough, or fell far enough to feel it yourself.
The Commander was watching him, his gaze strangely intent when he said, "I've received a reassignment to the Northern front, but it would have been necessary to go, regardless."
"Oh. Um." Andreyev bit his lip, and decided against mentioning the outlands. No need to cause the Commander unnecessary grief, when he'd already gone to such lengths to comfort a couple of no-name soldiers. "I guess this is goodbye, then, sir?"
"Well, not just yet."
Reaching into the folds of his coat, he extracted an envelope bearing the seal of the High Command, and handed it to Andreyev, whose eyes widened. "Sir, that's—"
"I heard you were heading an excellent team," the Commander said, nodding as if it were perfectly obvious. "And I happen to be missing a number of key staff. Operators, gunners... a lieutenant or two."
"I... Sir Kiske, I... thank you for such gracious consideration, but... we've already been reassigned, and... I no longer hold that rank, either."
A smile, bright and innocent, and absolutely not matching the slyness in his tone. "One of the perks of my job, Lieutenant, is that I get to choose my own command staff."
Many years later, when Andreyev came to attribute most of the things he'd done in his life to his vow, and trace the roots of that vow to one sunny afternoon in late autumn, he would be able to find the words for the things he'd wanted to say back then. At the time, though, all he had been able to do was reach out mutely and clasp that outstretched hand with both of his own, past caring of how it might look or seem, because something deep inside his heart had suddenly opened up, and he knew, for the first time, what it was like to hope.
- TBC -
A/N: Now that I've come this far, I admit I quite like how Andreyev and Ky's relationship unfolds present to past. It wasn't intentional, but at some point, the flashbacks started arranging themselves in reverse-chronological order. Anyway, that's enough out of me. Feedback is highly appreciated, as always, and hope I'm not straining everyone's patience too much with the next chapter. XD
Now, for the little details:
- Ecclesiastical courts were pretty widespread in the Middle Ages and wielded quite a lot of power. Now granted, what I've done here is pretty much a mix of everything I thought was cool, since hey, we're talking about a steampunk theocracy, no reason why we can't mix things up a bit.
- On excommunication: The matter of the Order keeping, well, order in its ranks was a bit of a headache. They obviously wouldn't discharge soldiers if they were fighting the devil incarnate (volunteer army, yeah right *eyeroll*), so that's what I came up with. Nothing to keep you in line like being afraid your family might end up Gear feed because of your misconduct.
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