Charon and I did it, somehow. We drove back into the chaos of bodies and steel to the frontlines, and we fought.
This time, however, we were definitely moving forwards. The enemy had thinned where we struck, and they dropped like flies, exhausted and stunned by the appearance of the King of Hell and his High Commander.
Eventually the rush of grey subsided to a trickle and Hell’s soldiers rushed into the gap before it could close again.
Purgatory was now facing a battle on two fronts.
Our reserve forces began to arrive and refresh our troops, and the exhausted rested during the ride through the break in Purgatory’s lines to join Charon and I. With our numbers rising and Purgatory cornered, we made considerable progress.
We were winning. That much was clear. It made the troops on both sides that much more crazed, desperate to either end or prolong the battle.
Our plan had worked. The three prongs of our forces crushed Purgatory and the reserves in between finished off what was left. With our men behind them, Purgatory didn’t stand a chance.
Before I knew what was happening, it was over.
Purgatory was scattered, broken. The few soldiers that were left abandoned their posts, some flinging themselves into the Eunoe in a final attempt to retreat.
I tried to keep the surprise off of my face but was unsuccessful. My jaw dropped.
Around me, Hell’s soldiers created an uproar. I could barely hear myself think over the sound of victory cries and the clanging of sword and shield.
And then I saw a telltale head of blonde hair on a corpse about a hundred yards from me.
I was running, but my progress was slowed by the pulsating throng of survivors. I pushed and shoved my way through, gasping for breath and keeping my eyes glued to my target.
“No. No, no, no, no!”
I finally burst out of the crowd and stumbled, scrabbling back to my feet and pushing my worn legs onwards.
My feet slipped on the bloodied grass a second time and I pushed myself back up, slower this time, before continuing.
When I fell for the third time I was close enough that I got onto my hands and knees and crawled over.
“Come on, please,” I muttered incoherently, “We won, we won, you can’t – “
I took hold of the corpse’s arm and turned it to face me.
Manara’s face was streaked with both mud and blood, but she blinked. And laughed.
“Z. How did I know you would find me here, looking like a mess?”
I tried not to notice how hoarse her voice was, or how it sounded like she was forcing it out with considerable effort.
“I’m sorry; my first priority isn’t my hair when I’m in battle.” I tried to joke, trying to look discreetly for wounds.
“I’m talking about myself.” She corrected, before wincing.
I noticed then that she was gripping her right side with a hand coated with enough dried blood that I’d mistaken it for mud.
As I watched, new rivers of crimson dripped through her fingers.
“Crap.” I cursed, pulling off my now-beaten cape and pressing some of it to the wound while draping the rest over her legs.
“You have a cape from the Guard and you’re…ruining it?” she asked incredulously, her incredibly human blue eyes on me.
“It doesn’t matter. I…I wonder where Lucifer is. He would know how to fix this.”
I suddenly felt incredibly inept. Manara was hurt. Bad. My pathetic first aid wasn’t going to do anything. She needed to be healed.
I was about to get to my feet but she managed by some exertion to grab my arm.
“There’s no time for that.” Her voice faltered, “This is it. I can tell.”
“What – it? No, you can’t expect me to just – “
“By the time you got back, I’d be…”
She swallowed the rest of her words.
My eyes were stinging.
“Where do demons go when they die?” I asked quietly, finding it more and more difficult to look at Manara.
“I don’t know.” She smiled half-heartedly, “Nobody wrote a book about it.”
My free hand found hers and I tried not to notice how cold it was.
“I’m sorry – that…was stupid. I’m stupid.”
“No you’re not. You’re strong. You’re smart. You’re a…revolutionary. You’re going to bring so much good to this miserable place, you already have…”
“It’s too bad I won’t get to see more of it.”
I was face to face with a dying woman, and I started to cry.
She raised her arms and I collapsed onto her armored chest, hiding my face from her, from myself.
“I wouldn’t feel too bad about the magic lessons, Z.”
I pushed myself back into a sitting position, confused.
I opened my mouth to speak but was silenced by the clear, unblinking blue eyes smiling at me.