Chapter 42:

Depths of Tartarus

Code: Zero Defect

Tartarus, the largest prison in New Olympos. It is a damp place that breaks even the most hardened criminals. Within its towering walls was a massive labyrinth filled with office rooms, laboratories, and halls of vacated prison cells. As such, anyone would find it difficult to navigate the impossible construct.

Of course, anyone except for the generals of the Queen's Guard. General Archontas was making his way through the darkness, passing cells with many eyes that struck him like daggers. However, he did not falter, and neither did the prisoners attempt to speak at all. They knew all too well what the general would do to them if they so much as uttered a word.

He continued his stride, his footsteps echoing along the empty corridor. Eventually, he stopped at a secluded sector with a prison cell housing one single person. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes upon. However, she was now but a prisoner, a defect and disturbance to the natural order of the city.

"Eri," Theo spoke.

Erianna merely chuckled at the sight of him. "Hello, my love. How have you been?"

"I... I've been well."

"Is that so? I'm glad to hear that."

Even in her current situation, Erianna still managed her charming smile, the same smile she would give to Theo whenever he came home. It was a look he had not seen for the last eight years, and it was one that he had been longing for ever since.

"How are... How are the boys?" Theo asked, his voice audibly shaking.

"They're doing well," Erianna replied. "Sol is getting good grades as always. Doesn't have a girlfriend quite yet, but I'm sure he'll get there. Cael, on the other hand... I'm sure you have more of an insight as to how he's doing."

"Cael is fine. He's a lieutenant of the expedition unit now. I have no doubt he'll be promoted to a captain within the year."

"That's good. I'm so proud."

Theo rested his hand on the prison cell bar and lowered his head. The sweet voice of his wife was exactly as he remembered, and with this brief conversation, he was reminded why he loved her so much.

She was a strong person—willful, compassionate, and always shined like the brightest star in the veil of the darkest sky. There she sat, behind the bars of the prison cell, yet her everlasting smile did not fade.

"Aren't you going to ask me how I've been?" Erianna hummed.

"... How have you been?" Theo asked.

"Hm... I'm not sure. Sol has been keeping me company these past couple of years, so I really couldn't ask for more. Though, I wish I could've seen you again. Hehe. I suppose my wish came true, but now I find myself wishing it were... under better circumstances."

To see his wife smiling even though he knew how she truly felt pained Theo to no end. He knew what he did. Traumatized by the death of his daughter and how he played a key role in it, he buried himself in his work. It wasn't until a while later that he realized he had neglected the rest of his family, but he couldn't bring himself to face them.

And now that they were here, having a normal conversation like nothing had happened, he was reminded that he might now play a role in losing another.

"Eri..." Theo muttered sorrowfully. "Tell me..."

"Tell you what?" she asked.

"Something. Anything at all. Tell me that you had nothing to do with Strider."

"Well, I'd be lying to you, wouldn't I? I can not possibly do that to my love."

"Then at least tell me why!"

Erianna remained calm even when his voice boomed. It was a side of him that she had never seen, but she was nonetheless unsurprised to see it.

"Why... did you help him?" Theo grunted. "He's a defect and a threat to New Olympos. Everyone in the city now knows what you did. I can't... I can't defend this unless you give me something to work with."

"Theo. You do not need to defend me," Erianna smiled. "There will come a time when you will understand why I did what I did. I believe that time will come soon, and my only fear is that you won't be able to handle it when it does."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm sorry, my love. I can't say anymore."

Theo drifted to the ground. For the past eight years, he put his work above his family. He has been 'General Archontas' more than he was a husband or father. As such, he knew he did not deserve to see them again. Even now, it was so very painful.

"Then I suppose we are all in agreement on the punishment?" said a familiar voice from down the hall.

Theo turned his head to meet his fellow generals walking towards him. Keira skipped over and leaned her arms on the prison bars.

"How're you feeling, darling?" she smiled wickedly.

"I'm fine, General Sigastiris. Thank you for your concern," Erianna smiled back. "And greetings to you as well, General Prostatis."

She looked upon him and saw that there were visible scars along his augmented body.

"Did something happen? You look quite... flawed."

"Thank you for your concerns," Ramses said as gently bowed his head. "A minor scuffle left me injured, but augmentations allowed me another chance. Though, I find it quite worrisome to receive pity from someone such as yourself... as you have just admitted to your crime."

"I am now what you call a 'defect,' no? If you must, then please, don't bother yourself."

"Sassy, aren't you?" Keira chuckled. "Should I cut off that tongue of yours? Maybe then, you won't be smiling so much."

"Even if you do that, it will not change my beliefs, General. If my actions are deemed worthy of a defect, then a defect I am."

"Hah! This is your wife, by the way, De Leux. Anything to say?"

Theo kept his silence. He could not bear to watch his wife insulted, but he knew very well the position he was in. Should he defend her, he would essentially be siding with a defect. As the leading general of the Queen's Guards, he couldn't afford to lose face.

"Erianna De Leux," Ramses said. "You assisted in the escape of a highly wanted defect. As such, this means that you, too, are a defect of the same level. The only punishment is execution. That is, of course, unless you are willing to spare any information as to where that defect is now located."

"Well, darling?" Keira snickered mockingly. "Start talking if you value your life."

"I have already lived my life to its fullest," Erianna giggled. "I gave birth to three beautiful children and fulfilled my duty as their mother. Unfortunately, one of them met an ill-fated end... and perhaps much to your surprise, I know very well who took her from me."

Keira's eyes widened along with her malicious smile as she fixed her gaze on Theo, whose heavy breaths could be heard amidst the howling corridors.

"Eri... I-I..." Theo muttered but could not find the right words.

Finally, Erianna dropped the smile she had worn for so long and replaced it with a subtle frown that spoke volumes.

"I've desired to hear what you would tell me for a very long time, Theo," Erianna said. "However, now that I stand here, I wish to hear none of it. Kill me if you wish, but don't you dare attempt to garner my favor after what you did to my daughter."

Theo kept his head down as the image from nine years ago replayed itself in his head. He stood before his daughter as a general who upheld order above all. Her eyes glared at him with hatred, but he did not react. Instead, he forced her to activate the overdrive sequence of her code, essentially killing her.

Looking back, he wondered how he could stand so apathetically when his own daughter was about to die. For years, he cursed and blamed himself. Never once did he have a quiet night's sleep. The nightmares wouldn't stop. And now, he must face his wife for it.

Ramses unlocked the prison gates while Keira grabbed the bars and pulled them open.

"Let's go, Lady De Leux," Ramses said.

"Where to?" asked Erianna.

"Where else?" Keira scoffed. "Your execution grounds.

As they began taking her away, Theo snapped out of it. He turned around as a lump was weighing his heart down.

"No, wait!" Theo shouted. "Give me a week! I can make her talk. One week is all I need."

"Oh...?" Keira grinned. "Are my eyes deceiving me? General Archontas, the head general of the Queen's Guards, is defending a high-level defect?"

"Please, grant me this one favor. I swear, I will-"

"Shut up," Erianna muttered, immediately silencing him.

She turned around and met Theo's eyes with a disdainful glare. 'Was she always capable of such a look?' Theo asked himself. However, he could not deny that it wasn't justified. He is the sole reason why their daughter is dead.

"One week, one month, one year, it doesn't matter," she said. "I will tell you nothing. You do not deserve to be called my husband or the father of my children. You... You make me sick."

Theo sat still and watched as the other generals took her away. In the end, he couldn't even say anything of value to her. He couldn't explain himself. Even then, what could he possibly say?

Erianna De Leux was led outside of the Spire and into the Arch of the Immortals, where a crowd was waiting with anticipation. Standing in the center was the guard known as Executor. Every public execution was conducted by him. It was then that Erianna finally realized that her time was up.

She stared at the bright blue sky, the sun barely lifting itself over the horizon. She wondered where her children were. Would they be sad to know of her passing? Would they mourn her? She was worried, but there was very little she could do now.

All the while, Solas was shoving his way through the crowd. The sound of murmurs and gasps was evident that something had happened, so he pushed through even harder. Eventually, he made it through, and there, he saw his mother standing dead in the center of the plaza, and the executioner was right next to her.

"Mother!" he cried out.

He attempted to run at her, but a pair of guards grabbed a hold of him before he could make it far.

"Let go of me!" he shouted. "Mother!"

"Sol..." Erianna whimpered.

From the corner of his eyes, he stopped the generals standing atop the highlands, and in the center was his father, General Archontas.

"Father!" he roared angrily. "What the fuck are you doing?! Stop them!"

But he did not. Instead, he bit his lips while keeping his head down. General Prostatis stepped forward and held his hand in the air.

"Let us commence the execution," he declared.