On the eightieth day,
at noon, we left the fortresses of Nesechia behind, setting out to sea again. The weather was high and fine, and from the bay I saw the beauty of the land unmarred by threat of death. Yellow sun fell first on the smooth gray granite of the mountains overhead, then on the bands and swaths of amber Nogilian grasses, then on trees pricking the sides of the peninsulas with their orange and red and golden leaves as they swept down from the heights, lower still on the palms and fern fronds lapping at the water’s edge and at last upon the azure bay itself, a mirror of the sky.
I stood on the deck of the ship commanded by Jerem Cozak and wept. We were waiting for the rest of all our forces to load, now some one hundred and twenty thousand men. I stood with a bundle of two dozen lightspears at my feet and the gaping shock of grief engraved upon my heart. After Julius’s death, the first fortress had fallen quickly, and turned out to be connected to the higher city by a staircase we soon commanded. Marcus took sole command of the entirety of the Neverborn, and claimed that citadel almost independently. In any other man I would have suspected revenge. With Marcus, I knew it solely for maximally effective execution. He went because our army was still reorganizing, not expected to attack, and still a distraction by virtue of its movements, which the Augers could hear but not precisely see.
By midnight of the first day of our occupation of Nesechia, three of its one hundred citadels were ours, their armories emptied to the last speck of sentient dust. We took our breakfast on the march. With the rest of the Neverborn, Marcus oversaw the realignment of our army into forces of twenty thousand men tasked with overtaking fortresses. Each received an equal complement of artillery and mastodons for support. I remained, of course, with the matriarch and Jerem Cozak, and so saw four more Profusionist strongholds besieged before we engaged our own, far to the south, just before noon on the second day. The bombardment woke me up.