The ride into battle was an uneventful one. Our battalion thundered through ravaged countryside, twitching with anticipation, swarming like a giant black animal over hills and valleys.
The air was bristling. Every scorched tree, every boulder, seemed to be a soldier crouching in wait. I clenched and unclenched my hands where they gripped the reins.
The drums, the hooves, the clinking of armour all seemed to have receded to a corner of my mind. With every passing moment I was resisting the urge to draw my blades, and to plunge them into something.
If I had the strength of a hundred men, I also had their anxiety. Not anxiety…jitters? I felt buzzed, like a thousand wasps were surging inside of me. I needed to move. I needed to kill.
Bloodlust. I had the bloodlust of a hundred men.
Finding the word for it only made it worse. Black sparks were dancing from my armored fingers, and I could tell it wouldn’t take much for them to burst into flames.
This was it. This was what so much fighting, betrayal, and meticulous planning had led to.
Even with the first clash of swords, the first spray of blood into the world of greys and blacks, I was still in some degree of disbelief.
I could see my swords dancing through the air, could feel Omen rearing up and kicking a nearby soldier, his helmet flying off and his neck turning too fast in the wrong direction, but I wasn’t really there.
I was on autopilot.
I’m not entirely how many hours passed like that. I was vaguely aware of fighting beside Charon, and then losing him somewhere, and then fighting beside Athena and losing her too.
We were moving forwards. Or maybe backwards. The soldiers poured towards us in an endless onslaught of grey.
The ground looked like a dirtied chessboard, littered with pawns.
Eventually I could see the Eunoe’s murky waters in the distance and felt some small amount of hope flare up inside of me.
And then I felt the world lurch and realized that Omen was crashing towards the ground, letting out a strangled noise.
I threw myself out of the saddle just before he hit the ground and, rolling to my feet, quickly parried an axe aimed at my head.
If anything, the soldiers were even more intent on killing me when I was on foot.
I wasn’t tired. I didn’t have the option of exhaustion.
It was like we’d stepped on an anthill, and an endless ocean of grey ants was crashing into us.
I didn’t know where the rest of the Guard was. It hit me suddenly that I should have stuck close to them and Lucifer, seeing as he was in recovery, and I began fighting more methodically, sweeping through the battalion for a glimpse of more red capes.
I was surprised to hear the voice over the deafening noise of battle, and looked up to see Charon extending a hand from his horse.
I took it and was quickly lifted to sit behind him, simultaneously impaling a soldier trying to reach us with my free hand.
Charon quickly set us at a gallop away from the frontlines.
“Where are we-?”
“There’s a weak point in their forces further north. We’re almost at the point of breakthrough, but we have to do it before reinforcements arrive.”
“The weapon to do it.”
“What about the King?”
“He’s occupied. In twelve different battles.”
“Remember that idea you had?”
“When you thought I could parade as the King to keep him safe?”
“The one he’d never agree to?”
“Well, turns out he doesn’t object to a little…misdirection. The Guard are all fighting as him, in various locations along the bank.”
“So Purgatory doesn’t know which is which?”
He turned to grin at me and I tried not to lose my grip when I realized he had morphed into Lucifer during the ride.
“A little warning?” I hissed, resisting the urge to hit him.
Charon laughed, pointing to a hill we were approaching.
“On the other side is where we’ll be fighting.”
I realized with a start that his mouth wasn’t moving.
“I was in your mind, remember?” he continued, “I can speak directly to it.”
As we rounded the bend, I drew my swords again and prepared to do battle.