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from one hiding place to another. The dead fought stubbornly. Not till noon
was the north camp finally relieved. Shih-ka i immediately ordered the troops
outside to withdraw to the Tusghus River.
 We surprised them this time, he said.  We won t again. Then,  The fortress
can stand alone. He surveyed the cables and nets being rigged over areas
where flyers might land.
 Suppose they pursue, Lord? Tasi-feng asked.
 I wish they would. I d bring up Northern Army and play hammer and anvil.
The Deliverer disappointed Shih-ka i. For three days he attacked the
fortress, scoring only local successes. Stubborn Shih-ka i always overcame.
Undying pyres burned in the drillyards, day and night.
That third day Lord Shih-mihn sent a message saying he was embattled with a
horde of natives. Young, old, women, children, armed and unarmed, dead and
living. They had swarmed out of the forests screaming,  Deliverer! The
legionnaires were destroying large numbers, but could not continue their
withdrawal while the battle lasted.
Shih-ka i stared out at the ragged thousands surrounding the fortress.  This
Deliverer can t be everywhere at once. The enemy stood frozen, in ranks of
motionless, slowly corrupting flesh. Something had been lost in the transfer
of power. The Deliverer s host was rotting slowly. The stench of corruption
had joined that of burning flesh. Before long the Deliverer would need a whole
new army. He could not make skeletons walk.  Lord Lun-yu. Take a brigade and
sortie. They won t put up much of a fight.
Tasi-feng destroyed thousands of listless besiegers before the air suddenly
became angry and the rest returned to life. He withdrew. Shih-mihn reported
that the horde attacking him had collapsed.
 Gentlemen, Shih-ka i said to his Tervola,  if this Deliverer makes one more
mistake, we ll destroy him.
No one asked what he meant. He told them without being asked.  One, he could
expose himself to injury. Two, he could let us get his witch. Three, he could
get too eager and stop recruiting savages. Or let us stop him from
recruiting.
Still no response.
 Anyone want to be a hero?
There was another message from Shih-mihn. His attackers had fled into the
forest. He was moving toward the Tusghus again.
 Shall I sortie again, Lord? Tasi-feng asked.
 No. He ll bring those poor creatures here now, to finish us. We taught him a
lesson today. Now he knows he can t bypass us.
The assault began during the night, spearheaded by children and women. It
never let up. More natives came out of the wilderness, some having walked a
thousand miles. Shih-ka i cursed them for not having had the sense to stay
under the empire s protection. And congratulated himself for having had the
foresight to get the majority moved.
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Shih-ka i destroyed them by the tens of thousands, and still they came. And
the transfers kept sending casualties to Liaontung. Sections of fortress fell.
The courts and cellars and barracks filled with dismembered corpses awaiting
destruction. The stench was as wearing as the interminable attack.
 Lord Lun-yu, what kind of monster is this Deliverer? What mad creature
depopulates half a million square miles to take one fortress? Is he some demon
who s slipped his master s leash?
 He s just a boy, Lord. Seventeen or eighteen. Normal in most respects. With
a big grudge against the empire.
 A grudge!
 Live prisoners say he s vowed to destroy us.
 You think he will?
 No, Lord.
 He s made an impressive start, hasn t he? How long can we hold out?
 Two days, surely. He s short of draftees.
 I ll leave it with you. Keep buying time. We bought enough for Northern
Army. Now I m afraid we re buying it for Lioantung.
Tasi-feng sighed and stared at the floor.  As you command, Lord.
Lord . . . maybe you can contact Lord Kuo now.
 Lord Kuo? I thought he was being retired.
Tasi-feng shrugged.  I don t know. Maybe he has been. We haven t been in
touch.
Shih-ka i made a last inspection of the fortress. It was in abominable shape.
The witch still lobbed in the occasional blue egg. He suspected Tasi-feng was
too optimistic, claiming they could hold two more days.
He and Pan ku went down to the deep cellar where the portals were massed. As
always, casualties were passing through.  At least they ll get out, he
observed.  This is the last place the Deliverer will reach. The men won t have
to make a pointless last stand.
Pan ku replied,  I hope not, Lord. I d feel bad if we lost them. The
Seventeenth is a good legion.
10
Year 1016afe
Fire in the East
NEPANTHE SAT AT her window, staring without seeing. The extreme end of
pregnancy had worsened all her tendencies toward alienation, introversion, and
brooding. She cried a lot. She snapped at people for no good reason. She
considered the gross swollenness of her belly and loathed herself for being
ugly, hated herself for bringing another child into a pitiless world. There
were irrational moments when she hated the little parasite growing inside her.
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