More, there was no smell of waste or food– only the tang of springtime sun and growing plants. Grass spurted through the rubble of the broken street. The wood of the windows of the barracks had rotted.
Then I understood. Ariel was no city being ravaged. It was a ruin. I had not lost hours or days in that unknown Well. I had lost years.
And the grey mist that furled around the crumbling edifices was no fog at all. Or at least not a natural one. It was a skein of the same white that Jerem Cozak had breathed upon my face. It was the White Swarm, brought to the surface in his wake and by his person. And it appeared grey here because it was surrounded by the nightwind.
I had nearly forgotten that obscenity. It stretched as a shroud of blackness around the ruined Temple, rising as high as the bell towers themselves once had been. The enemy had brought it, of course, with their machines of war and death and the burning of my city. In all Thaeron now, there would be no place where the nightwind wasn’t.
Except for where I stood, where only the White Swarm was. I walked forward again, toward the Temple. The Swarm moved with me, billowing around my feet. It still came out upon my breath. The tiny white machines rolled out from the square like fog pulled by some cool breeze.
“What is happening here?” someone asked from the darkness. “Your machines are very strange.” A man approached me through the fog. He was taller than me and heavier, with short dark hair and a broad neck and face and shoulders. He came from behind the nightwind. He was unarmed, wearing only a short tunic and canvas trousers not very different from my own.
But his size would overcome me if we fought. He stopped out of my reach, still in the nightwind. I cursed myself for leaving my dagger in the sarcophagus.
“We have not encountered them before,” he said again. “Identify yourself!”