Chapter 17: A Night to Remember

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At three strokes past midnight, Dux gave the order to move. They were to head west, towards the Acropolis, and make their descent into the deadways. The Greenhorns were organized, briefed and shuffled into their respective units. Each Officer would take a third of the men and split up, diverting course in a three prong formation.

Civis was getting his gear ready when a familiar presence sat down beside him, arm cocked over an impressively heavy crossbow. He looked up to the familiar ivory smile that Nox possessed.

"You never told me you knew Byzan." Civis said, turning his attention back to his gear. A small rucksack with the essentials: waterskin bursting with fresh wine, a dagger and some dry rations. He patted one of the pockets, smiling at the familiar shape of an old letter written to him long ago.

Nox gave a chuckle that made it hard for Civis not to smile. That damned Austerland just had that effect on people. He radiated joy, even in the midst of war.

"I listened." Nox said, his words thick with the accent of his Zulan tongue. Every syllable was pronounced, like a dramatic Anglan play.

"I suppose you won't need me translating for you now?"

"Akuna kwenza" Nox stamped his foot and gave another low chuckle.

"Yeah, I didn't think so." Civis returned to checking his gear. He cinched the rucksack tight.

Nox tapped Civis on the shoulder and nodded over to the Captain, who was busy getting the Greenhorns lined up and ready. He had his mask on, signing orders in finger-cant.

"Ngaba nobabila nala?" Nox cocked an eyebrow.

"Not a fight," Civis sighed and swept a hand through his thin hair. "More like a disagreement. Don't worry about it."

"Ngatha dazela uVizith." Nox said before pulling something from his pocket. It was a simple charm, carved from a small chip of cobblestone. Vizith's name was written on it in the Zulan script. He handed it to Civis.

Civis stared at the charm before slipping it into his coat pocket. "Thank you. Say a prayer for us as well. We'll need all the help we can get right now."

Missing the sarcasm, Nox clasped his hands and muttered a few words. Even if Civis had forgone the ideas of Gods long ago, hearing Nox pray made him feel a little better. At least someone had enough faith to see this campaign through. After everything he had seen so far, Civis had begun to doubt. Far be it from him to stop a bloated empire from crumbling. Perhaps then he could finally have his vengeance.

Still, his brothers needed him. The Vangen was his family now, and letting his emotions take over would only lead to their ruin. He needed to put on his best face, like Dux's mask of authority. His was a mask of machismo. Just like the masks all his brothers wore. A mixture between a warrior's pride and a man's honor. Together, they were unbreakable. At least, as they appeared on the surface.

Civis stood up. Nox stopped praying and eyed him. The mask slipped itself on easily. Civis cocked a smile, giving the Austerland mercenary a pat on the shoulder before moving on to his group. He could feel Nox's eyes on him until he had disappeared into the crowd.

Civis' group was nervous. The Greenhorns made jittery finger-scripts to each other, still trying to grasp at the essentials. Lots of movements invoking fear, unknown, terror even. That wouldn't do. Civis cleared his throat. The group filed into formation.

"We're moving out soon," Civis signed. "Our destination is the Acropolis. That's the big ass building on the hill. Past the big ass castle known as Gray Hogs."

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