I knew then that he held out to me a blade of the Profusion, that kind of weapon that will not be forged in this universe again. Machines within the blade animated it so that it sang with vibrations. To it, our thickest steel would only be as paper. The only substance it could not easily cut through was Profusionist metal like itself – and that, of course, it could do if skillfully forced.
“You honor me too much,” I said. “We have no other.”
Marcus shook his head. “He gives it to you. But I watch you skirmish. Stay out of any fighting.”
I promised that I would. He was correct about the combat. For it is not enough that we must suffer running up mountains for half of every day. In the hours after dark, and in the hours before dawn, and in all those times when the column stops for any reason, we drill, we wrestle and we skirmish.
And in the night, standing on glaciers, on snowfields, on wind-swept plateaus, I fumble with my sword. And the Never-born cut me in the arms and legs and neck, though we wrap the blades to protect us from this outcome. I fall out of line and out of formation. I often fall outright. Thirteen times I have been flanked by only one opponent, as I turn too slowly while my sword is drawn. This fact, Marcus has said, will mean my death, if I do not do something dumber first.
“I know,” I said, taking the blade, “that I get no better.” It weighed awkward and lifeless in my hand.
“False. But whoever wants is going to kill you.”
“You argued about me,” I said. “Back there, you fought about Julius, but I have been the cause of your dispute. You don’t believe I’ll ever become what he wants me to be.”
He turned and spat in the snow. “Don’t lose the knife,” he said. “Get in your armor.”
Turning away, he called out more commands, and I hastened to don my steel. Practiced daily, this at least I could finally do without assistance, as the city guard’s armor had been designed.