Please understand, none of this happened instantaneously. By the time we hit Nesechia, the forces of Jerem Cozak numbered some sixty thousand souls, with ten thousand mastodons and half that number of artillery. We did not unload in one location: Julius took half the infantry to the next bay. And unloading did not happen within a watch’s time. Disgorging from the decks and holds and tiers and ramps of the greatships took most of the morning.
So the first reports of the scouts came in the middle of the day. And by the time we in the front ranks of the column drew up in sight of the cities, dusk was falling. Someone must have lit a bonfire in the city then, because you could see white mist rising up from it, glowing in a way that smoke does not. Marcus had succeeded here. And the reports of the scouts confirmed: the city was the Swarm’s. Its walls were turning white. There were thousands of Augers dead, fallen in their black armor, but in the central square of the city hundreds were tending to each other through the illness of reversion. The path of Marcus’s forces, however, swung to the right, southeast, rising up toward a gap in the grassy rounded slopes.
I overheard all of this, of course. Marcus’s departure and the reorganization of the entire structure of the army had not severed Jerem Cozak from the matriarch, or me from riding second in the line beside him. The rain fell in sheets and the mastodons were eager to be off of the ships and as I listened there rose in me the ocean of the dread. We had known the landing would be safe or we would not have done it. And after the scouts came back we had known the city would be safe. But now we would be advancing through the night, and nothing would be safe at all. I saw in my mind, again and again, the Auger running up over the head of my mastodon, his quicksword raised and striking.
We went regardless, climbing to that elevation where only grasses grew. When we crested the ridge Jerem Cozak called a halt and raised his oculars. But even I could see that far ahead and down in the saddle between the ridges at the head of the valley where the peninsulas joined, there seemed to be the fire of artillery and starspear. But the warlord spent a long time looking not only to the flares and the flashes of artillery, but also to the west and south and east. When he put the oculars down he leaned toward me atop his mastodon.