Chapter 53: A Chance to Reflect

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The Temple of Nido. Custodia had not been back to this place since she was a child. Why would she when the Goddess had been dead ages ago. As a little girl she used to frequent this place with her family. She'd pray at the Goddess' feet as her family made offerings to the temple coffers nearby. Back then she used to ask for such trivial things. For the girls to stop bullying her. For the strength needed to work her family's fields. For wisdom so that she could one day live in the city with enough money so that her parents would never want for nothing. But she was given the Green Fever instead and now she had nothing left to pray for.

It had taken the rebels all night to push the heavy trebuchets up the temple stairs. By the crack of dawn they had assembled most of the siege engines in the square overlooking the entire city. Custodia stood facing the palace. It was such a marvelous structure, jutting out of the ground like a massive stone spike under a blanket of green grass. The palace was one of the few places left in Byzantia where grass still grew. To the left she could see the gray haze of the Ashfields. And too her right the rolling bald hills of Turcia.

The morning wind picked up as the first rays of sunlight broke over the horizon. A few strands of graying hair tumbled past her vision, swaying in the breeze. With a practice hand she crooned them back into place. Gods, she must have looked like a wayward lover at that moment. The whole scene felt romantic enough, if she could ignore the groan of the siege engines and the pounding of hammers behind her.

Her thoughts lingered on Dag despite her best efforts. She wondered what he was doing now. Sleeping hopefully. The man had a habit of running himself ragged, even before joining the Vangen. So many nights in the past she had caught him in the training yard practicing his drills even after she'd threatened to break his hands.

If only things had been different. If only he hadn't been so loyal, but unfortunately that was the best thing about him. Devoted to a fault. Even against all odds.

"You've become rather thoughtful as of late." Tyrannus stepped beside her, souring her mood immediately. "Something on your mind?"

Custodia chose her words thoughtfully, careful to not bruise the man's ego any further. "Are we not being hasty in all this? Won't the Emperor be upset not having a palace to return too?"

"Then we will simply build him a new one," Tyrannus snapped and the magick surrounding him suddenly flared with a new intensity. Custodia felt the breath within her forcefully ripped out and it took everything she had not to gasp.

"We've endured enough setbacks already," Tyrannus said. "There will be no more failures. Our victory today for the Emperor must be absolute. He stepped in front of Custodia, blocking her view of the palace. "Remember that it is I the Emperor chose as his champion. You and the others are merely instruments towards his magnificent return," He moved towards her, so close that she could smell the vile odor in his breath. "And instruments do not ask questions. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal." She wheezed. The pressure lessened by a fraction.

Tyrannus glared at her before he turned and walked away. "See to it that the siege engines are completed before sunrise. I don't want to afford Dux even a sliver of time to plan against us." Only then did Custodia feel the pressure surrounding her finally abate. She sucked in a lungful of air, forcing the sickening feeling in her gut to dissipate.

She watched Tyrannus as he left for the temple, feeling her hand inch close and closer towards the pommel of her sword. This time however, the shadow in her heart did not try to stop her. She felt its presence reach deeper into her being, blanketed her in a cold embrace as it spread from tip to toe.

Slowly she slipped her blade from its sheath and stalked toward Tyrannus. Custodia imagined the look on his face when she buried her blade in his chest, realizing too late that all his talk of instruments and champions was misguided. The shadow had chosen her from the very start. It was Tyrannus who was the tool. All Sorcerers were in the end.

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