“Will you stop that ridiculous cooing, Pharamol?”
The commander observes, without turning from the cage, “Seems like it ought to talk, doesn’t it?”
Amerenth shrugs. “Not every weird bird—birds?—talks. Sometimes they’re just birds.”
“Still…” Pharamol twists his head this way and that, as if he can somehow catch the bird in a different light.
“Just go to bed,” the symbiote grumbles.
“Fine. Stupid thing would probably just ask for a cracker anyway, and all I’ve got is hardtack.” Amerenth can hear him setting aside weapons, tugging off his boots, and lowering himself into his cot. There’s a thin woosh as he extinguishes the lantern, and then silence.
For a few moments. “You okay, Amerenth?” She grunts. “You seem testy tonight is all.”
“Haven’t slept well,” Amerenth mutters.
“Right. Well, I won’t keep you up then.” She can hear Pharamol settle onto his side. Moments later, there’s a thin, wheezy snore.
Amerenth curls her legs up to her chest and waits. It doesn’t take long.
A harsh voice pierces the night, barely audible above Pharamol’s breathing: “Light and dark are just two faces on the same bogeyman, you know.”
Another voice, lower and raspier: “Doesn’t matter who you pray to, all you serve is death.”
“No one wins this war. No one wants to.”
“We live in a land where everything we want or need falls from the sky. What else is there to do but fight?”
“Endlessly and endlessly, as the peasants are driven into dust and the temples grow fat with gold…”
“We have always been at war with Eastasia.” The two voices cackle, low and menacing.
“A boot stamping, brother Udoga.”
“On a human face, brother Chubak.”
“Forever,” they intone as one.