On the fortieth day,
I began the war. I assailed the fortress of Kiss, southmost citadel of the Hand of the Profusion. I was not ready. The Never-born declared that the mastodons were not ready. But we all fought for Jerem Cozak regardless, because we were running out of time.
The cities of the Hand of the Profusion hold within them the largest armories in the world. Their Wells contain quickswords and lightspears, artillery disks and shrouds and the very excellent armor once worn by the guards of every Profusionist city. We needed all of this equipment. I had guessed it was where we were going ever since we left the valley of the mastodons, for we had turned northeast, and headed more or less constantly in that direction.
The descending march was deadly. The Gidwinn Mountains, scything across the continent and coming up from the southwest, do not so much diminish down into the ocean so much as they slam into it. Whole ranges stretch out into the sea, their valleys being of that kind that steepens as one descends. The bottoms fill with ice and black water from the oceans. The Historians of my city taught that the Profuse Hand earned its name because, from orbit, our continent seems to claw the sea with long and granite fingers.
We marched and rode along the very spine one of the ranges. The footing betrayed us at every opportunity. Each day, several Never-born fell to their deaths. That, too, was marked by the Never-born’s marching silence. We never sent anyone to collect the bodies, forsaking a practice held sacred by every culture of the world, and certainly shared by the Profusionists that left the Wells of the Dead behind. I wondered if the Never-born had forgotten such rites, or if they, like I, simply sacrificed everything to Jerem Cozak’s nightmarish pace.
While we remained above the clouds, the great broad swath of the ocean grew daily on the horizon. After we fell beneath them, we stepped into a storm of snow and ice that would have killed us if we stopped. When the snow piled too deep for even the Never-born to run, we rode double upon the mastodons, clinging to our cloaks and collars against the cold. In the darkness, the mastodons followed each other by their scent.