I couldn’t help feeling on edge as we rode into battle the next day.
Everyone was surprisingly exhausted, and the death toll was hanging in the air like a suffocating fog.
I kept my eyes glued to the council and, when I could spot his head of snow-white hair, Charon.
I was still in disbelief about what Athena had said, but I had to admit she made a good case. There was an information leak somewhere, and I had to find it before anything worse happened.
And that would mean keeping my drooping eyes peeled.
We were attacking over an open field. No possibility of another nasty surprise.
The drums sounded grim. The battle cry sounded angry, ravenous for retribution.
Lucifer led the charge, as usual. I had barely enough time to watch him gracefully swing his sword before I found myself in the clash.
I fought with both blades again, but I made no sound. No taunting, no laughing, no well-timed cries to stun the enemy.
It was hard without Omen. I’d been given Rocky as a replacement, but it was difficult getting used to a slower, heavier-built steed.
Even he looked something fierce with the helmet he was wearing, with a deadly-looking metal shaft for his horn to fit inside snugly.
As I cut a soldier open with an x-shaped motion he gored one approaching from the other side, still maintaining a steady speed.
He had his perks.
The fighting was a blur, as usual. In a matter of hours both sides had retreated and we warily made our mercy rounds.
I had just been putting in the eye drops, walking and blinking in the hopes of getting them to work faster, when I heard the noise.
I turned, making a face, but before I could credit it to my imagination I heard it again.
The drops started to kick in and what I had assumed to be a corpse looked like it was the source of the sound.
I drew my sword and walked towards it, but the soldier’s head moved and his grey eyes pleaded with me.
One of his legs had been taken off entirely, and his left arm was hanging on by a flap of skin. He was caked so thoroughly in his own blood that he was almost impossible to discern from the dead.
“Wadr, wadr.” He repeated, as if he was afraid I hadn’t heard him.
I reached into Rocky’s saddlebag and pulled out a canteen, raising it in question.
His eyes followed the bottle, and his head moved in a tiny nod.
I opened it and knelt beside him, holding my breath as the stench of the battlefield rose up to meet me.
He took the water down in gulps as I held the bottle for him, until he stopped, nodding as if to signal it was enough.
“Lo…ket.” He forced out, shuddering with the effort.
Somehow, despite the grime and crimson coating him, I managed to find a chain around his neck and carefully opened the clasp, trying to put it as delicately as I could into his good hand.
He was still looking at me expectantly, his expression glazed over with pain.
I opened the locket, and I tried to keep myself from looking inside.
But I did.
From one of its halves a young woman smiled shyly at me, and in the other was reflected my empty expression.
I looked up at the soldier, but he was gone.
I put the locket back in his hand and closed his fingers around it, standing and, with a considerable amount of difficulty, tearing my eyes away from the mangled young Purgatorian.
Rocky didn’t say anything as I finished up, and the ride back to our camp was a quiet one.