I did my best to avoid Manara in the following days. She did the same. On the odd occasion that we crossed paths she didn't so much as look at me, but I could feel her glaring daggers at my back as I walked away.
I was seriously in the doghouse now.
War went on as usual. Athena kept giving me vague warnings every now and then.
She was just like Charon in that sense.
The sleep deprivation started kicking in and I managed to start sleeping through the nightly parties. My appetite came back. I started putting on muscle.
I still missed Omen, but I got used to taking Rocky into battle.
Things had been going relatively well.
That is, until the day we reached the river Lethe.
"Fall back! Fall back!"
I groaned, crouching behind a thick bed of reeds.
I didn't know who that idiot was, or who he thought would actually hear him.
Most of our battalion was dead. It had been another ambush. The enemy had been waiting on either side to encircle us, trapping us between them and the river that was far too wide to possibly cross.
Blood was pouring into my right eye from a cut on my forehead. I had very likely twisted my ankle when I fell off of Rocky an hour or so earlier.
I had to get up. I had to get out, before the enemy closed in.
I wiped at my face and crawled slightly higher on the bank, trying to get a vantage point.
Wails of pain assaulted my ears and I was met with the sight of carnage and ruin.
I looked down at my black suit, stark against the gray landscape, and muttered a few expletives.
This was what happened when people didn't want camouflage.
I scooted back down towards the reeds and, digging my hands into the slick gray mud, began to paint myself with it.
It was one part disgusting and one part oddly soothing, but within a few minutes I had thoroughly caked myself in it.
I crawled back up the hill and peeked over the top, looking for the enemy.
The only problem was that they already had the camouflage game down to a science. I sighed but, feeling an idea forming, reached into a pocket (one of the few changes I'd finally been able to make to the suit).
I fished out the mercy duty eye drops and, tilting my head back, proceeded to blink them into my eyes.
It stung for a few minutes, but my vision quickly altered to one of reds, oranges, and blues.
I crept up from my vantage point and skulked around a bush, limping painfully.
If I had any chance of survival, I couldn't let my foot slow me down.
I drew a short dagger from my hip and, noticing a moving red blob, proceeded to move closer to it, darting from one shelter to the next in my pursuit.
When I was within arm's reach, I stood, swung my arm around the pulsing neck, and slashed it with the dagger.
It was a quick, silent kill.
A few more paces and I came upon another sentry, who met the same fate.
I continued the same way, creeping about and neutralizing the Purgatorian soldiers I came across.
I hadn't really been keeping track of time, but when I finally limped out of the marsh, the drops starting to wear off, I heard a soft whinny.
"You still alive, mate?"
I turned to see Rocky clambering out of the bushes, tossing his head.
"You...waited for me?" I asked, surprised.
He gestured with his head to a pile of bodies behind him.
"I kept myself busy."
I painfully swung myself onto his back and felt my sore limbs fill with relief as he began trotting away from the battlefield and back towards the camp.
I didn't even bother holding the reins. I leaned my head in his mane and felt myself quickly pass out.
When I woke up I was lying in my cot, my forehead bandaged and what was some kind of ice pack on my foot.
I was about to get up but was interrupted in my efforts.
"Don't. That foot needs to rest. And so do you."
Lucifer smirked as he adjusted the ice pack.
"You were unconscious, draped over Rocky when you got back to camp. You managed to survive slaughter, Commander."
I groaned again.
"It was an ambush. I didn't notice in time. I let us ride right into it."
The King of Hell looked amused.
"Yes, and then you proceeded to take out half of the Purgatorian patrol on your own."
"Rocky saw everything, You, single-handedly, took down enough men that they've had to retreat for reinforcements, in fear that we had another hidden squadron in their midst."
"You mean...we've got the river bank?" I asked tentatively.
It was sufficient to say that I was stunned.
"Hopefully tonight you will be well enough to join the festivities."