Thursday, March 6, 2014

Page a Day: One Hundred Eighty Two

            Of the following days, I remember very little. Of great Profusionist walls slumping, the stench of burning metal, the bone-shaking cold when a wind came up after the rain. A bitter taste in my mouth, again and again, and again. The relentless crunch of the armored boots of thousands of men upon the march. An afternoon so hot and humid I fell from my mastodon, dizzy and exhausted. Jerem Cozak brought me water, and for the next battle I was better. A night so clear and calm I imagined I could hear the radiation of the stars crackling overhead. The sea of dread with its rising and falling tides. The foggy morning when we charged an Auger army caught in the open grass. Once, we broke a citadel at the foot of a glacier, wind shrieking against our armor. Another time, the ocean surf broke against the legs of the mastodons as we protected the artillery. The clear clean smell of that, washing away the sweat and blood, always the stench of blood.

            Then even the mastodons became too injured to go on, and we spearmen marched behind the Neverborn, Jerem Cozak commanding. I do not know how many lightspears I exhausted. Always there were more waiting in the armories, or cradled by the dead. Men fell behind me, beside me. Marcus was shot through the arm, and for the rest of the campaign wielded his sword one-handed. His skill was such and the chameleon of the Swarm so effective that it did not matter. Our injuries were to massed and random fire. Most of our five divisions took five or six fortresses a day. No one stopped to sleep, only to eat and re-equip. I was never hurt, though thrice I was blinded by artillery strikes that landed too close.

            And by the end I did not, as I had hoped, remember less of the Auger who spitted me in Wesing. The victories did not count that way. Instead, I remembered more: the hard line of his mouth through the open crack of his helmet, the set of his shoulders as he came. Each time I remembered it I turned more slowly, and the strike became more and more inevitable. Sometimes, I remembered he was Julius, others that he was Marcus or Jerem Cozak. 

             When the wall of the last citadel fell, I did not even march inside. Instead I sat upon the broken ground and shook, my legs rattling the gravel there. If other men said things to me in passing, I surely did not hear them. After that, the White Swarm put everyone to sleep.

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