Chapter 51: A Round of Beer

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A week ago Blackstone Tower was bustling with activity. Now, the silence was almost painful for Custodia. Sitting amidst the dimly lit ruins, she found herself longing for her compatriots once more. Cannis with his youthful fire. Tranquilis with his old warrior's wisdom. Aeturnus talking like a bored stone. Nido bless her, she even found herself missing Mendax. Of all people.

But they were gone now. Slain by the hands of the Vangen. And now only she remained. She and that horrid monster Tyrannus. He sat across the only remaining table in the tower, eyes flitting over a grubby map of the city. He had one hand over his mouth, rubbing over his salt and pepper beard. Mouth working silently.

He'd been that way ever since they'd returned to Blackstone. After his initial rage back at the courtyard of Second Gate, Custodia had wondered if the Minister would ever return to normal. That trick with the ballista bolt and the magician. Dux had thoroughly outdone himself this time.

But now as they both sat there silently, Custodia wished more than ever that Tyrannus would say something, anything, to halt the gnawing silence surrounding them. She'd figured out early on that the moment he went silent was the moment that he'd reached his breaking point. While calm on the surface the magick coursing within him was a wild and volatile miasma, pressing against her so strongly that it even made breathing a chore.

"How many men are left at our disposal?" Tyrannus finally spoke. His gaze never left the map.

Custodia closed her eyes and reached out to brush the minds of the rebels. After ten or so minutes she returned. "Around eight or so thousand. As far as I can tell." She added.

"Hmm," Tyrannus ran a thumb and forefinger over his beard, growing quiet once more. The minutes ticked away in silence before he spoke again. "We can't afford another set back."

"I know." Custodia said.

Tyrannus looked up from the map. "Do you though?"

Custodia leveled her gaze. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Don't act stupid. It doesn't suit you." Tyrannus said. "I know you spoke to Dux last night." Custodia tried her best to hide her surprise, but that only made Tyrannus smile like a cat having cornered a mouse. "What were you two talking about eh? Trying to rekindle the old flame again?"

"I asked for his surrender." Custodia spat out between clenched teeth.

Tyrannus gave a cruel laugh. "You asked? How polite of you. Good to see that manners are still an option to have when trying to topple a tyrant."

Custodia felt her hand itching for her sword. All she had to do was draw it and take Tyrannus' head in one fell swoop. The shadow in her heart said otherwise though. It wasn't time. Not until victory was assured. She let her hand drop. "I thought reminding him of what we used to have would convince him otherwise, but he's still as stubborn as ever."

"Dag has always been a man of duty," Tyrannus said. "You were a fool to think otherwise."

Custodia felt the heat creeping up her neck again, but all she said was, "Yes, I was."

"Hmmph," Tyrannus turned his attention back to the map. "The Emperor does not accept disloyalty. If you even think about sabotaging this rebellion in anyway, he will know. And you will find him to be most unforgiving. As am I."

"I do believe I know that more than anyone here." Custodia said.

Tyrannus opened his mouth to speak before the door to the tower flew open and a man dressed in fine livery and lamellar came barreling in.

"What is the meaning of this?" Tyrannus said. The man bowed, one hand to his heart while the other clutched at his high-domed hat.

"My apologies sir, but I have important news for the lady."

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