The immanence, you find, is overwhelming absence. Someone’s torn a hole in terra firma. End of the line. Because suddenly, even though it’s been building all along, the world drops away over a precipice more than four thousand meters down. Below, an emerald valley cradles the cerulean resurrection of the river and an entire city the color of jade, seen through the tattered mists of the water being blown apart beneath your feet. The city Kasora, once home to more than a million souls, sits above cliffs on the river’s right-hand side, a long finger of jade Profusionist metal. Across the river, a broad and gentle slope that could be the calmer child of the snowfield. The valley, tearing away into the west, is almost too beautiful to be believed.
Or it should have been. The emerald meadow, viewed through oculars, was streaked black with the mud of what were clearly trenches, the first bend of the river was pocked by artillery impacts, and the pristine river beyond a certain point had turned the colors of shit and blood. The crossing had been contested. Seen through my oculars, tiny golden orbs arched from just across the river toward the city’s north end, and its only crumbling gate. The army of Jerem Cozak, working the last part of what looked like a long and brutal siege.
“Nogilian,” I said. He grunted. “Nogilian!”
“I know,” he said.
I put the oculars down. “They aren’t going to make it.”
The city was packed. I had no idea where they all had come from. Not a million Augers, to be sure. But more than fifty thousand, definitely. They were everywhere: rooftops, alleys, plazas, and I hated to think of how many spearmen might be waiting inside the windows of those buildings. Worse, in the heart of the city squatted a citadel atop its own walls and surrounded by open courtyards. In military parlance, we call them killing fields. One did not have to wonder how the Historians of this world had kept their High Temple intact.
“Seriously, Nogilian. They’re gonna die.”
Our friends were modestly outnumbered. That does not go the way of the attackers. There’s just too much going against you. The avenue for success in that endeavor is a ratio of ten to one supporting. And yet Jerem Cozak would not retreat. Never. Even if he did know.
“There is no descent, our Guardian. We have looked.”
We had. That was why we had not just turned around in the caldera and gone to await our deaths upon the Shuni stair. I had thought that perhaps whatever had opened up the pass would have also trailed on down into the valley, that we could ride in as saviors upon a gentle road.
No such luck. That pass marked the end of the cut, not its beginning. The highlight of the last watch or so had been Nogilian asking me questions about the ship that I refused to answer, and me damn near losing control of my valkyrie on the snowy slope. We both had had to dismount long before approaching the scenic edge.
I thought about the Niskivim. A mistake realized long ago, that their war against the khrall had damned near wiped out a galaxy of innocents. What would you do to rectify that kind of oversight? What could you do?
Let oceans swallow you, as Jerem Cozak had said. The sentiment felt ever more appropriate.
“Our Guardian,” said Nogilian. “We should return. We’ll see no victory here.”
Hardly a stranger to defeat. Lying asleep in a swamp for a decade, the boots of his enemies marching over him. He was aware of our own thousands awaiting our return. He was worried about them. I had not explained what we or they were doing.
It should all work together, I had told him across the campfire. This world was made to work as one.