The dead said it would have scared them. They claimed fewer casualties resulted from such raids. Since most of them had once been Augers themselves, I did not attempt to disabuse them of the notion.
None of us got much sleep.
Nogilian knew enough not to develop any clear pattern. We did not always swarm from four sides. Sometimes we used cavalry to taunt the defenders into chase. Other times we dribbled over the walls by squads and cracked the nightwind’s relics open. Three times we split our forces to take cities within eyeshot of each other. Twice we actually undermined the nightwind’s wall. Once, we drew up outside the watchtowers, clearly visible, and challenged everyone to formal combat – while some artillery we’d happened upon began pounding the city gate from the opposite direction.
Always, Nogilian chose the most effective and efficient plan for each situation. Always the chamelonic abilities of the White Swarm helped. Never were the Augers ready for whatever threat we presented. And never did they respond with profound organization. I mentioned as much to Nogilian.
Nogilian grunted. “It is true that they have exhausted the fields around these cities. They do not think strategically, or they would have replanted. It is good that we will move on soon. This valley is nearly spent.”
I reminded him about the garrisons.
He shook his head. “They will move the cities.”
I pulled out my poker face again.
He shrugged. “The White Swarm has already asked where it could move them to. The cities will dissolve and move as part of the swarm. The authorities of each will tell it where to go. When it arrives, the city will reform in any way the authority intends. Formation and dissolution each require a day.”
Amazing. “And to think you used to rely on tents.”
He shrugged again. “It was no bad thing, hearing the fabric in the wind. But this will save these people a great deal of bother, and better protect them from the storms.”
Not his people, Elmy. This will save these people. I made a few promises to myself. I stepped outside, ending the nightly conversation. I needed my thoughts to be my own.
Toward midnight, and the wind still blew. The plains around Cibola did not have so much breeze. Ash had suggested it was the difference in temperature between the sea we were coming to and the mountains we’d left so far behind.
Regardless, it rippled the cloth of the tents we’d liberated from Ariel. And we were using fabric in very large amounts. The garrison we had defeated to take the first city had manned an outpost only. There were greater numbers south and west. Often, the garrisons of the cities had outnumbered us.
In each case, we’d liberated sufficient valkyries to provide for new recruits.
So I looked upon the cooking fires of more than forty-five thousand men. My riding dead. My cavalry of corpses, or those who believed they once had been. Killed by weapon or infection, it mattered little to them. You came back changed regardless. I went inside and caught a few hours.
Or tried to. I was unaccountably glum.
The next day we saw the ocean. That was when I learned that the boundaries of Nogilia are not definite. It bleeds down into Sepira mostly by means of a steeper gradient. The grasses get longer and greener and mingle with more shrubs. The wind, no longer warmed by a journey across the sunny plain, cools down. It rains more often in Sepira, the hug the oceans give this northern continent. The shore itself consists of gentle beaches cut by steep draws and, where the Profuse River enters the ocean, a vast and silty delta that marks the middle of the province. On one of the alluvial islands sits the city named Sepira, the largest port city on this world.