The safest place was where I would be, parked behind the artillery lines atop my mastodon for no strategic reason that I could see except that there was no other place to fit them. The artillery was defended by default by the entrenchment at the ford. Our purpose was for when the walls fell and the gate broke and it came time to rush the city. Nobody needed to tell me that mastodons would form the vanguard, and that all the remaining Auger strength would be waiting for us atop that ramp.
By the time the entrenchment finished, darkness fell. The mastodons lay down for the night, and I sat with my back against my own. Tomorrow it began, and would not stop until either we or the Augers all were dead. I remembered thinking exactly this outside the first fortress of the Profuse Hand, and laughed. Then, we had a whole world to conquer, and when we charged it in all our strength my dread fell away. Now I felt my journey ended at the top of that ramp, riding beside Jerem Cozak, and my dread only increased.
I do not know when I fell asleep, but just as I did I felt a gentle breeze. The air turned very cold and I shivered, and I stood alone amongst the stars. Only this time the floor upon which I stood was not clear like water. No, the floor was fire itself, and I could feel it melting the Profusionist metal of my armor. I had only some few moments left to live. Then I looked up, and before me stood the demons of the void. There were five of them only, and I wondered where the others were. But these were larger, now, and wreathed in the same fire as the floor, though I knew it would not consume them.
As before, one stepped forward from among them to speak to me.
“We have them,” it said, and I felt the truth of it shake the depths of my bones. “You will never reach the ships. You and your pretty cloud will be undone.”
I thought of my beloved, golden and serene, and tasted ash in my mouth.
“She is not here,” it said. “She cannot come. Their days are gone. Time is ours. You will have accomplished nothing here.”
It smelt of the stench of burning flesh. “We come to collect the lightships. You die before you step inside this city. The one you follow has already fallen. You are only the last to know it.”