Chapter 5: A Knock at the Door

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The great stone wall of Byzantia, the capital of the Contanis Empire, dominated the coastline of the Album Sea, reaching from western AshFields into eastern Turcia. Every stone had been hand carved by an imperial engineer. Every stone bore the mark of a great house. Every passing generation added their stones to the ever growing wall. Byzantia was not just a portland city. It was history defined by the physical labors of man. To kings, Byzantia was a fortress. To merchants, Byzantia was a treasure trove. To the Vangen, Byzantia was home, but not today.

Libro watched Byzantia's battlements through a spyglass. He sat on his stomach over a steep hill, tallying marks with charcoal and paper whenever a guard passed by. So far, he had made near fifty in total. Surprisingly light for a city roiling in civil war.

Grass shifted and a form saddled up beside Libro. "Any changes?" Dux asked.

"None, Captain. A few changes of the guard, but otherwise it's been eerily quiet." Libro passed the spyglass to Dux.

"Uhm." Dux nodded and peered out. "The Black Ministry probably wants to keep things hush-hush. A city overthrowing its ruler is a city ripe for invasion. The Turcians would practically shit themselves with joy if they found out."

A massive understatement, Libro thought. Half the bordering kingdoms were under the imperial yoke. A task that had taken decades for the Empress over her unnaturally long hegemony. If word got around that their ruler had been suddenly deposed, the repercussions would be catastrophic.

"Do you have a plan?" Libro asked.

Dux glanced over at Libro and shrugged. "Hard to say right now. They've shut the east gate up tight. No one enters. No one leaves. Walls are too damn thick for a proper siege. Now I regret using the annihilation sphere back in Oria. Could have punched a hole big enough to charge through if needed."

Libro shuddered at the thought. He didn't need to be reminded of the black crater they left behind a month prior. A dozen rules in the Jenaveve Concord had to have been broken lobbing that damned sphere at the Dargon. Libro supposed the Vangen would have to add war crimes to the long list of misdeeds written in the Archive. All for the Empress and her lust for domination.

Dux handed the spyglass back to Libro. "Come on. Back to camp. I've seen enough." Dux slithered down the steep hill. Libro followed after. The Vangen camp was a short distance away, nestled in the crook of the hill overlooking Byzantia. The landscape surrounding the eastern fringe of the city made for a natural barrier. Sloping hills and winding valleys made to tire out an army long before they could reach Byzantia's walls. Long enough to muster a retaliation.

Dux and Libro passed by two saluting patrolmen as they entered into the main body of the camp. Soldiers worked in pairs, staking tents in a careful pattern amongst the wild maples and Judas-trees. If the Black Ministry wanted to find the Vangen, they would have to leave the safety of their walls to find them.

The other officers stood waiting in Dux's corner of the camp. A small palisade had been constructed, surrounding the Captain's tent and sparse personal effects. Regis sat on a rolled out carpet, smoking tabaci from a hand carved pipe. Magus sat with him, making shapes out the clouds with his glamour. Culter was leaning against a tree, picking at his cuticles with his stiletto. Nox and Civis were having a lively conversation in Nox's mother tongue. The dark skinned Austerland flashed Libro and Dux an ivory smile when he noticed them.

Civis greeted Libro in his usual manner. "How goes the subterfuge, peeper?" A new nickname. How quaint, Libro thought. He ignored Civis's obvious baiting and turned to everyone else.

"Patrols were light on the battlements. The east gate is closed up tight though, but I don't think they're expecting our return any time soon." Libro procured the tally sheet and passed it around.

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