The first of the Free Cities of the Fackablest had not been like this. It lay at the very headwaters of the Dicean River on the edge of the tundra, amidst scattered pines only as high as one’s own waist. We would follow the river south and west along the foothills of the Gidwinn Mountains. And we would pass into the Fackablest, the vast coniferous forest that covered two thirds of the northern half of the continent in nearly unbroken wilderness. Our targets were the Free Cities, those experimental settlements of the reforming Faiths that had at first consisted solely of stone and timber and had only been sustained by river trade and lush, machine-laden soil brought up from Nogilia . There hadn’t even been any Temples in those places, only markets and shipping docks, places of exchange.
But the first of them we came to had been rebuilt by Augers. The black walls made by the nightwind around it stood ten paces high and thick, pricked by towers half as high again and concealing all but the roofs of the barracks and warehouses and the tops of the billowing clouds of dark machines roiling inside.
“Deploy!” Jerem Cozak had shouted, in that voice the warlord used only for command. I had been near enough to hear the gruff tones of it. And I always would be. He had taken personal command over the mastodons. He still rode the matriarch, and I still rode second-in-the-line. I was going to be near enough for everything.
Marcus had lead the infantry to the fore, in squares with great spaces between them. The aisles would allow our mastodons to pass. Directly behind us, Julius led the great golden disks of the artillery, shining in the sun. We all advanced together, and the world turned beautiful again.
Jerem Cozak had called the halt three hundred paces outside the city. We were just even with the front ranks of the infantry, the disks just behind us. You can’t imagine the space ten thousand soldiers must occupy. My mastodon stood with a group of only one hundred of its kind, and I felt we could not be stopped. All the universe stood still.
Then Julius has spoken, and three hundred artillery fired at once. Ten suns arched over my shoulders, and joined thirty times that many soaring toward the wall. There came a hiss louder than any roar I had ever head, and I understood that my lightspear must utilize the same energy. I blinked at the brilliance. I’ll never know how the first barrage went, because I did not see it. I was watching the Augers that poured out from some gate in the south wall, and ran in our direction.