Nogilian had not been wrong. That city stood exactly where he had thought it would, though his people had built no permanent dwellings. They had lived instead in the fabled tent cities of Nogilia, which moved wherever the harvest went.
I found him again as everyone unloaded. “Thank you,” I said. “You know your land well.”
He scowled. “My land is dead. Nogilia was her people, who are no more. But the scouts would show you something.”
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt a more solid presence than Nogilian’s, a fact I was sharply conscious of as I followed him down the river. He stopped and motioned. And two soldiers stepped out of the riverbank beside me.
Huh? I might not be the brightest observer in the world, but I know when I’m being stood beside.
I looked again, and the scouts phased in and out of existence. I reached out my hand and grabbed.
And latched on to solid Profusionist armor. “Don’t worry,” Nogilian said, “they are no illusion. Tam, Isolos, thank you.” The two men sauntered off, no doubt to swap shifts. Scouts got to rest during their downtime, no matter what anyone else was doing. “It’s spread through all the scouting parties. It will hit the main ranks soon.”
What, like an infection? “What’s going on?” I asked. “Nogilian, what’s happening to us?”
He frowned. “This White Swarm has the ability to learn. You said you were in stasis, but awoke when you arrived. From there you went to the Well that held Jerem Cozak and the White Swarm. It was then that these machines learned to revive us from those you carried in your body. You brought the White Swarm to wake us, and we fought the chameleonic apes. From the machines in those the White Swarm learned to camouflage.”
I nodded. It made a certain kind of sense. “So what’s next? We all grow tough scales or get really good at smelling blood?”
He shrugged. “We attack the city.” He nodded toward the departing scouts. “I suggest a nighttime raid.”
“Indeed. Prepare the men. I want scouts on every side of it before we go.”
Nogilian nodded, likely already having done half of it. His reports came back a few hours later. The city was square, like so many of the Profusionist cities on this world. It was just that it stood where no Profusionist city ever had before. It was composed entirely of nightwind. It had four broad avenues that came from the cardinal directions and met squarely over the city’s cache. Though its walls exceeded forty feet in height, none of its buildings topped more than two or three floors. It garrisoned between one and five thousand men who had likely not fought anyone or deployed anywhere else in the last eight years. There were a few sedentary lookouts. They sparingly used oculars. They were not expecting anything.
But there were valkyries scything across the plain every hour or so. Their riders were likely bored. When everyone was hurried up and ready, I ordered us to sit through an additional day. I wanted the White Swarm’s new trick to filter through to every last damned member of my army. Nogilian returned five separate scenarios for assault, complete with percentages and attrition profiles.
I opted for the plan most likely to succeed. If we failed, a good casualty report wasn’t going to matter anyway. Oh, a bad one would brutalize me, of course, but I’m no child. I knew that, in this campaign, my own feelings mattered just as much as an ant’s. I watched the sun sink, then I gave the order.