“It’s an ambush!”
“Back, back, move back!”
Omen reared as arrows rained down, and I felt the world lurch as I forced him to move.
They were everywhere. In the trees, on the ground, rushing forward to encircle our regiment.
I cursed under my breath as Omen trampled a grey soldier, sickening pops and cracks reaching my ears. I slashed angrily at those trying to cut him down, my blade burning black. An arrow whizzed past my ear and I felt my cheek burning.
By some miracle Omen and I made it out of the fray alive, and he held strong as we galloped the miles it took to get back towards the camp.
As soon as I had slid off his back he nudged my hand, the whites of his eyes visible.
He kept jerking her head to his left, and it only took me a second to see it.
There was an arrow buried into his flank.
I tried to staunch the bleeding with my hands, looking around desperately for any sign of a person.
“I need help! Somebody!”
I ran to my tent and, grabbing one of my many tunics, ran back and used it as makeshift gauze.
Omen was breathing quickly, and I stroked his neck to try and calm him down.
“Is there anybody in this damn camp?” I yelled, flustered.
“As you all know, today we suffered…crippling losses.”
A tired, beaten council watched me quietly. My face hurt.
“Purgatory managed to locate and ambush our forces with remarkable precision.” I continued, “And, frankly, I don’t want it to happen again. From now on we travel in smaller units. And I want camouflage. We’re like a banana in a coal mine at this point.”
“You’re not suggesting we stop wearing Hell’s colours?” Manara asked incredulously, stunned.
“What colours?” I sighed, “Black and grey aren’t that different.”
The council stared at me, bug-eyed.
“That’s not up for debate.” I said firmly, “Now go, get some rest.”
Everyone slowly filtered out of the tent, except Athena.
“Commander,” she started, walking towards me, “I wanted to bring something to your attention.”
I nodded for her to continue.
“The force that attacked us today; it was no scouting regiment. There were far too many of them, and too heavily armed.”
She glanced around before continuing.
“Purgatory didn’t just happen upon us in the woods. It was a thoroughly planned maneuver.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“How could that happen?”
Her grey eyes looked troubled.
“There was no way the enemy could have known our movements in advance. Unless…”
“Unless someone told them.” I finished, feeling a sense of dread overwhelm me.
She leaned in closer, her voice low.
“The only ones with access to those plans were the Council, the King, and his advisor.”
“Charon, the ferryman.”
I scratched at my cheek, wincing as my fingers came back bloody from a freshly-stitched wound.
“We have a mole, then?” I asked, swallowing hard.
“It would seem so.” She sighed, “Tread carefully, Commander.”
She saluted me and bowed out of the tent.
I sat on the table, trying to digest what I’d just heard.
“Did I miss the party?”
I looked up to see Lucifer walk in, but I was too tired and worried to offer a snarky reply.
“Yeah. The meeting just ended.”
He cocked his head to the side, watching me curiously.
“Are you alright?”
I nodded, wiping off my hand. The movement didn’t go unnoticed.
“You’re hurt.” Lucifer stated simply, moving towards me.
“Just grazed by an arrow.” I dismissed, “It’s not too bad.”
He took the hand in question and, inspecting it and then me, spotted the gash down the side of my cheek.
“Sloppy stitching.” He commented, taking my chin and narrowing his eyes.
“I’m exhausted, bleeding, and you expect me to sow straight?”
Lucifer smirked and started tugging at the string. I grimaced and tried to move away.
“Let me take a look at it.” He insisted, putting his free hand on the table so that his arm barred my way.
I grumbled some kind of reluctant agreement and tried not to flinch as his fingers brushed over the wound.
“How many?” I asked in a small voice, Lucifer’s silver eyes flitting towards me momentarily.
“I got out early.” I explained, “I didn’t…see much. Just…an estimate?”
He glanced at me again, his expression emotionless.
“At the lowest, a thousand.”
“And the highest?”
My face fell.
“Nobody could have seen that coming.” Lucifer reasoned, “And we still have millions – “
“It was my job to see it coming.” I said suddenly, blinking, “But I didn’t. I let six thousand go to their deaths.”
“You did your best.”
“It wasn’t enough. You know what? It’ll never be enough.”
I sighed before continuing.
“I’m a sixteen year old girl with purple and pink hair playing at war. Who am I kidding, I’m not the Prophesied. I’m nothing.”
“Hey.” Lucifer started, waiting until I looked at him with heavy eyes, “You’ve been in Hell for a few months, and you’re more of a warrior than half of the people here.”
“Because of some magical river.” I shot back, “It wasn’t me, or my skill, or my hard work.”
“That’s not what I was talking about.” He replied, “You have honour. You were willing to give your life to save the Devil.”
“Yeah, I’m a human shield at my best.” I muttered, “You should make someone else Commander.”
“I don’t know…Athena.”
“She’s a born soldier. Genius, but distant. Cares more about the victory and glory than the forces themselves. Not to mention the fact that she can’t stand me.”
“The work bores me.”
“Any one of your multitude of children?”
“I don’t let them too close to me. That’s how a coup happens, darling.”
He looked at me incredulously.
“I’m not even going to bother explaining that one.”
“Fine.” I muttered, “You win. Your little pep talk saved the day.”
“There’s that wonderful sarcasm I’ve missed!” he said with mock enthusiasm, “Now, hold still.”
He leaned towards me and, taking the end of the string in his teeth, broke the knot.
“Ow!” I hissed, as he slowly pulled the thread out, “What the hell are you doing?!”
“I’m saving you a lot of trouble.” He offered, “Now, stop talking.”
He put one of his hands over my cheek and I felt my skin starting to burn.
It hurt. A lot.
Just when I was on the verge of punching him out he moved, looking at my cheek.
“There, good as new.”
I touched my face, surprised to find my skin unbroken.
“What? How did you-?”
“Healer, remember.” He offered, “Not often, but I make an exception every now and then.”
“I don’t remember hearing about healing demons.” I replied, surprised.
“I was an angel once.” He smirked, “Old habits die hard.”