Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two Pages a Day: One Hundred Four

            Then we went, chameleonic. We avoided collisions because one night in Nogilia the White Swarm did something to each of us. When we woke, we saw each other as the White Swarm saw us: as clusters of machines. The Swarm was always visible to itself. Only our flesh and armor and riding machines could disappear from their sight. As we rode to war we saw each other only as white and spectral forms, intensifications of machine-made mist. No one else saw us at all.
            I sent Nogilian with thirty-five thousand men to wait deployment in the valley behind us. The rest I took ahead to my previous post upon the ridge.
            We brought artillery. We’d only found twenty pieces scattered throughout Nogilia, a few at each of the most prominent cities we had taken. I hoped it would be enough. The sea breeze whipped our faces as we rode out on the open. Smell of salt air. Good.  The delta spread below us. Flocks of white egrets sailed for the horizon. Three hundred meters away the city squatted like a tick at the waist of the world.
            I ordered the officers to fire. Suns arced across the sky, landing mostly on the wall. The thing about conducting such a siege is that it takes patience. You’re not blasting away with shells. You’re confusing trillions of nanites with blasts energy, until a wall loses its cohesion. It took till noon for the Profusionist metal to break. I poured down the hills with my ten thousand to deal with the landing craft that had come from the docks southwest of the city. Nogilian streamed down behind me, kept on going toward the falling wall, and roared across the bridge of the White Swarm, which unchameleoned itself as he neared, and which had been in a day in undiscovered growing. Afterward, he went on the city square to face a force of ten thousand Augers standing armed and waiting over the cache that we had come for.  
            Not that I would know. I wasn’t there. Me and my ten thousand were off guiding five thousand converted Augers along a silty beach. By the time I got to the city square, all I could do was watch the corpses. 
            And those were dead in truth. No one got up again. I’d waited, in Nogilia, too. Watched to see it happen. Kissed more than I would care to count. I’d inquired to Ash about it. I’d certainly asked Nogilian.
            “Why can’t you do it?” I asked the Swarm now. “Why won’t you bring them back?”  
            Silence reigns on Thaeron. Time to call the roll, and add new names. I don’t remember how long I stood there with them. Even at the time it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing much did. I know that by the time we formed up to encamp outside the city, the sun was fading from the sky.
            Not that it had shown up much that day. Sepira is known for frequent storms. By the time darkness fell and I was sitting beneath my awning, the downpour had come again. I sat and watched the waves. The despair that haunts commanders would not depart.  
            Nogilian came to see me. “The caches were nearly full. Five thousand artillery disks, fully operational. We cannot use them, but they will make a mighty gift for Jerem Cozak. There will be nothing else like them on this world.”
            I shrugged. Messengers had given me that news thirty times over.
            He went on. “Tomorrow we can begin herding the mastodons. I do not know how many there will be, but this is their land. We will have them all for Jerem Cozak.”
            I scowled. “What’s across the sea, Nogilian? Our warlord never said.”
            He winced as the wind brought a wash of rain beneath the awning. “Three lands: Kasora, Nesechia, and the Shuni Plateau. Kasora, a mountain valley holding the oldest and strongest city in the world. Nesechia, a series of broad peninsulas reaching out into the ocean. The plateau, arid and flat and high, another land for valkyries.”
            “Any place you’d look for interstellar ships?”

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