The Auger artillery barrage, when it came, was fierce. They couldn’t have had more remaining disks than we did, but they could now concentrate all their fire upon the encampment. The first wave of strikes came so densely I could have mistaken it for a wave of Light. I willed my mastodon to close its eyes, though the bursts fell some ways away.
When it cleared I found myself looking into the eyes of Marcus, who had ridden a mastodon between the blasts and Jerem Cozak. The furor in them challenged anyone to deny him his position. I did not. The only way I had been able to get him to go defend the crossing had been to say that if he did not, Jerem Cozak would never leave, but would stand alone in the middle of everything because the White Swarm would not let him. How Marcus in turn had gotten Jerem Cozak to go back to commanding the artillery field I do not know. But I knew that he would not be parted from Jerem Cozak again.
I was glad of it. I was glad to have the Neverborn line up as the first infantry behind our squad. I was glad to have the other mastodons pressed up against me in a herd beyond the limits of the artillery. Because in the darkness I could not see the encampment and the trenches and the impact craters. But I could smell them. The coppery stench of blood and the hot torn earth and the scent that comes when men void bowels and bladder in their fear. The bitter reek of the dread of the mastodons and the men and now of Marcus himself as he rode beside Jerem Cozak.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, bracing as I heard the hiss of incoming orbs again. “You don’t like what’s happening. Why?”
He shook his head. “It is not right, this place. It is too easy.”
I felt my eyes widen. “Too easy! What – ”
He scowled as the impacts hit. “No infantry,” he said. “We face no infantry or spearmen here.”
When the second wave of flashes fell I saw through the flying mud and spray and golden Profusionist metal that the wreckage of our artillery was nearly complete. Piles of twisted machinery now littered the muddy craters and the abandoned trenches or squatted on the mud torn loose by the boots of tens of thousands of men. And our remaining disks held their position and prepared their counterstrike as they sighted back at the unseen Auger disks or at the towers through the now rapidly clearing mist.