With that, he turned, and I knew he would say no more. I donned my heavy armor, smooth and practiced as any of the Never-born, and added the Profusionist blade in a slot next to my ordinary sword, hanging in its scabbard. Perhaps I would use both of them today. Perhaps I would succeed. Suiting up with the rest of the Never-born, mounting my mastodon when they were brought forward, I felt one with all of them. Before, I knew what each of the mastodons felt; now I knew the hearts of the Never-born. Not each of them, for not all of the Never-born possessed a consciousness with that nature which men call personality. But all of them knew a single-minded purpose overlaying the memories of lives ended long ago. They dreaded battle, and they welcomed it. The world was beautiful for them now, too. For them the mud we squelched was sacred. The sun turned the sky to blood and gold behind us.
We went forward slowly at first, lest the mastodons leave the infantry behind. I knew the formation we were in, though I could not see all of it: the vanguard, the wedge of mastodons that configured a standard charge, thirty beasts side by side, led by Jerem Cozak and my own mastodon; the column of half of the other mastodons coming in blocks behind them, spread far enough apart to pivot or follow up in battle; the infantry, led by Marcus, double-trotting in two broad columns so as not to lag; and finally the rear, the other half of the mastodons spread in line formation, led by Julius as reserve, ready to guard against any move to flank. Glancing back I knew why Jerem Cozak had chosen this hour to attack: the setting sun blinded everyone looking toward the western horizon, possibly the oldest tactic known to humankind.
But the fortress-city of Kiss soon stood before us as daunting and unbroken as it had been at night. The thousand paces of wall did not slump in ruin. The towers had not toppled. No army had come ahead of us to breach it. I had not known the cold dark wave of dread could wash over the beauty of the world, but it now did. I chilled to the core. We would not turn back. We had no other place to go. Jerem Cozak would not retreat. All the mastodons could die, I could fall broken to the ground, and still we would not turn aside. I realized then that war devours all who fight in it, that I was still untrained, untested and unsuited, and that I was probably about to die.