“I had not known that,” he said when I was done. “I will talk to him while you are gone. But you must go tonight. It will only work it darkness.” He motioned, and two men came forward from the picket line beyond the fires. He spoke to them in a voice just too soft for me to hear, but I marveled at the cadence of his speech. He had, I reminded myself, once been a capable politician.
When it became apparent that there would be no skirmish tonight, I went to spend the idle hours lying beside my mastodon. Time passed quickly in the safe-feeling of the slumbering herd, and I wondered if I would be one of those who spent whole nights in this fashion.
When the moon rose, the two scouts approached and beckoned to me, and I came. They set off in a trot, and I followed as well as I was able. With each tramp the earth sucked at my feet, for spring had caught up to us again, and the ground was thawing. The night slid around us, cool and dark and treeless, for we had come to that part of the world where mostly grasses grow, even though we were only an hour’s march above the sea. But a few shrubs sighed in the wind and hissed along the leathers of my armor, for we wear that lighter gear on the march, and Marcus had not let me take it off beside the fire. We followed the ridge down toward the ocean, whose breath now even I could smell and taste.
But when the scouts stopped short and ducked down into the shadows of the grass, I tasted another thing entirely. For before us in the darkness stood a fortress-city of the Profusion, and cold dark dread swelled within my chest and poured more bitterness in my mouth. The walls of it stood as high as ten men and spanned the ridge on which we paused, three hundred paces across. Those walls would be made, as all Profusionist cities are made, by the tiny machines that make Profusionist metal. Atop the walls stood the towers, six men high again, that would house sentinels and mounted oculars far more powerful than the ones Jerem and Marcus and Julius each carried. If we were unlucky, behind those walls waited artillery disks, which discharged enough light and energy to blind and terrify a mastodon. We would not know this until we attacked.