By noon, command drew up before it, chameleonic. We arranged two thousand riders on the top of the brief ridgeline that here separated mainland Sepiran from its shores. The silty islands and braided currents stretched from horizon to horizon to horizon, sheet-flat and green from marsh grasses. In the center of it all the port city sat, walls of silver gleaming in the sun, extending some places into the brackish water. The Profusionists who colonized this world had not left any island outside their city.
It was, of course, utterly surrounded by channels dredged deep enough for barges and ships of every kind. And was, therefore, utterly immune to assault by valkyrie, which cannot cross anything a man can swim.
Nogilian and I had, of course, talked about this extensively. It was just a depressing thing to see. That was why Ki had led the rest to encamp on a series of seaside cliffs about sixty kilometers east. She had not liked even that location. She said it exposed us unnecessarily for a visual advantage we truly did not need.
She went anyway. I needed to see the waves. And we’d attack at dawn regardless. Besides, Nogilian liked my plan.
That night went the way all nights before battles go. Back at the encampment I tinkered on paper, sending squads here and there throughout the columns. I changed the sequence of commands. I swapped the vanguard with the reserve. Better to have Nogilian go where intelligence was needed. I sent messengers everywhere.
Finally, Nogilian came to see me. “Stop,” he said. “It is a good plan. We will not fail to execute. But frequent changes before a battle make everyone nervous.”
I raised my eyebrow. I could not imagine Nogilian anxious even as a child. But he was right. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been getting the feeling I haven’t been doing much good. But it’s a lot of city down there.”
Three-quarters of a million souls, if the records could be believed. We could be trying to break into a city that outnumbered us thirty times over.
“The scouts report little activity. The Augers did not leave many people on this world.”
We listened together to the rain outside. “I’ll try to ease off a notch,” I said. Nogilian nodded his assent and left. After had he had gone, I stepped outside to watch the breakers beat against the cliff. I’d had Ash throw my tent up on the very brink, and facing toward the ocean. There was an awning there to guard against the rain, when it wasn’t being lashed by oceanic wind.
Surprise, surprise, this stuff was. I got soaked. I did not immediately depart. It seemed fitting somehow. Finally exhausted, I went back in to lay staring at the canvas until Ash came and got me.
“It’s time,” he said, his hand on my shoulder. Huh? I had not even known I’d popped off. Muzzily, I stood up and got equipped. Then I went over to the corner bucket and threw up.
“Nerves,” I told him. “We could all die today.” He did not look encouraged by my speech.
I tried to do better outside. I stood there and looked upon forty-five thousand faces. The acoustics of the area were such that not quite all would hear me. I’d had Ash put the most reliably verbal where they would. It’s always good, Elmy, when they can spur each other on.
“Your kin are captive in that city,” I said, “held prisoner by machines controlled by men they cannot see or feel or touch, men not on this world. I say we set them free! We have come so far. You have done so much, whether you came to me in Ariel or Redmarak or Nogilia itself. You are one. You have not been defeated. You are the dead! I say so are they. I say they just don’t know it yet!”