We stepped our mastodons to the front. Jerem Cozak turned back to me as all the squads maneuvered into place behind us. “By the Profusion,” he said. “If we had valkyries we could have wiped them off the face of the world already. Spearmen would never even have to shoot.”
“No reserve?” I asked him. “We’ll be leaving our rear defenseless.”
He shook his head. “The fortress they came from is empty or distant enough that nothing could reach us in time. But you will practice your art when we reach the walls.”
Then he turned, urging the matriarch to a trot. I followed. Behind us, the infantry marched in double-time, slowed by the mud and rain and darkness. Mastodons saw better. Mastodons moved better, with their broad feet. The wedges, each more than three hundred mastodons wide, spread out as we went, one behind the other, and all following Jerem Cozak.
The key to a mastodon charge, Julius once taught me, was to cover the entire field and shatter each enemy formation, because unlike valkyries, there simply would not be in many cases enough room to turn everyone around. So you charged once. And you spread out your wedges a bit so that the successive lines behind you could reach what you couldn’t. And you armored your flanks and mounted spearmen on top and hoped that thousands of mastodons bearing down upon them would frighten and decimate the enemy just as much as they would have terrified and broken you.
Something happened, then, because my vision wavered for a moment. When it returned I no longer saw the herd as we were. Instead we became a succession of apparitions forming up in the darkness, clouds of thickening whiteness, but in the shape of mastodons and men. I looked through my mastodon’s eyes and saw that she saw this as well. I remembered, then, the herds of mastodons flickering in and out of sight upon the beaches of Sepira, and laughed. The Swarm had just made us invisible to the enemy, but visible to each other. The Augers would never know what hit them. So we surged forward in double time, and the line of the wedge covered the entirety of the width of the saddle. It was wider than the enemy’s lines. It felt broader than the world. At three hundred paces, we started seeing the limbs and heads and armored forms of the Augers, the golden arcs of disks, three paces wide and high, all illuminated by their own fire. At two hundred paces, they heard or felt the ground shaking with our advance and turned and cried an alarm, at what I do not know. Jerem Cozak brought the herd to a half-run, or canter.