I realized that the scouts were motioning to me. One of them mimed the sort of approach I should make, and I hunched forward so that my head was barely above the grass. He seemed satisfied, and the other waved me forward. I went, nearly at a run, while they themselves lay down so that they vanished behind me. I was soon lonelier than I had ever been. It had been anguish to leave my mastodon, and I then despaired to leave the ranks of the Never-born, and now the last of them left me alone and defenseless on the ridge. The wall of the city rose ahead of me, and I swore I could feel the gaze of the sentinels bear into me. I imagined their silent signals sending others around to cut off my retreat.
By the time I got close enough to mark the wall, my hands shook so badly I couldn’t make the cut. And not only my hands shook. My whole body shivered and I stopped. My bladder voided, and I knew the shame of those who panicked and froze in battle. I would fail, was failing even now. I would be shot as I retreated, or hacked to pieces before I brought the Profusionist knife to bear. I would be charred as artillery commanders found the ranges of their ordinance. I would drop the knife as Ursus charged, as the ape-men attacked. I would jamb the blade in the wall, and in my terror shout the whole city of the enemy awake. I would be flanked by the one enemy remaining, and then skewered by his sword.
Instead I reached out my hand and, with a breath, drew the tip of the knife lightly across the wall. The blade sang, and my arm hummed with its small vibrations. I realized I had never actually used it before, this Profusionist machine that could cut entirely through a tree if I desired it. Slowly I walked forward, feeling like one of the youths in my city that made nonsense marks along its alleys. But here it would not be the city guard that chased me. I walked slowly along the wall, careful not to trip and trap the blade, and swear I could have counted the beats of my own heart, so fast was my mind racing.
When a hundred paces were done I turned and ran, willing the knife to sleep. As I went, the world turned beautiful. Behind me sprang the colors of the dawn. The last stars shone palely overhead. The gray light broken on the horizon of the mountains to the west was stern and forbidding in its serenity. My own body became a strong and flowing thing, the rough grasses of the ridge precious beneath my boots. The chill brought blood singing to my face. My breath streamed from my nose and mouth in sweet exhalations. When the faces of the scouts rose up from hiding to greet me, I loved them with all the fellowship due to men.