By Kameron Hurley

We came down on the edge of the warfront proper of Old Lucifer on the guidance – that is, command – of Birdit so Alhamin of Faleen, some city on some rock we’d never heard of until we got pressed into service. Birdit, like all the officers, was big: big in the shoulders, big in the hips, big in the hands. Even her eyes were big. Her freckles were a clotted map across her bronzed face. She had scars and liked to show them. She'd been rebuilt three times, she told us proudly – as if she’d only been punched in the face - and later taken out all three attackers, not all of them human. "Always meet violence with violence," was her first lesson to us, followed closely by, "If they don't bring violence we bring it." She didn't read texts, because she thought too many written words warped the mind, but she knew how to read palms and scars, and she asked me once, if I could choose to live long or die well, what did I want?

I opened my mouth to say something brave, and she just laughed.

"I've seen eight legions die on me," she said. "I'll go on long after you’re char. You won’t live long enough to know what you want."

We loved her very much.

I first joined her command with a dozen other doughy boys, not one of us with a face that looked like any other. We were all from New Kinaan, so it was strange not to run with a group that looked just like you, but at least we had a lot in common – we were all castemates, all warriors. The other boys weren’t like us. They didn’t even take a copy of the Good Book with them into combat, and instead of talking about God, the seven hells, and devotion to Word and caste, they were more likely to sit over a game of cards and play for locusts or scarab beetles or whatever else the rock we pounded down on was using for currency. The day they started talking about how they were going to swap out katcreepers, I heard we were going to Old Lucifer.

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