One hundred fifty minus ten. We left the beach behind. The Stair surged up before us, daunting in its sheer artifice and size. Down its center lolled the broad silver tongue of the ramp.
“Wedge formation!” We’d face resistance near the top. The ramp would force everyone to move. And it was all for naught if, in the end, we didn’t control that switch for good.
One hundred twenty breaths. The beach was a thin white fringe at the base of the stair, occupied by low gray stone buildings decimated by the war, burnt out or broken through. Around them waited the ranks of my dead who had not yet gotten the chance to climb. Fifty thousand men take up a lot of room. Thankfully, these had nothing to do but get out of my way, stepping clear as my valkyries rode through.
We hit the lip of the ramp going as fast as valkyries can move, three times the speed of any man running. I shouted and willed and sent orders through the Swarm for my army of the walking dead to stay off the damn incline. I would not necessarily have done so in their position. For all they knew this chance was supposed to be for them. I had to slow for fear of mauling my own men.
One hundred breaths. The first few tiers were filled by the soldiers who had taken them, exhausted by the climb and combat and waiting to get the orders to go ahead again. Sitting slumped against the rear wall, out of lightspear range, vacantly watching more friendly ranks dribble up over the front edge, fresh and eager men who had not yet engaged. Between them, the pale thin mist of the White Swarm. Dead Augers and too many of our own sprawled pell-mell across the open metal ground. Wounded being carried to safety. The ramp stayed clear.
Ninety breaths left. Came the slicing whisper of lightspear fire and the high whine of quickswords in action. The stench of burning metal from artillery strikes. The embattled tiers seven, eight, nine. Ki’s shattered squads, fighting man to man. Heatwhips flinging our men back down over the edges of the tiers. Nogilian’s lines holding, attempting a slow swing maneuver. Two of ours isolated, standing helpless and paralyzed in their silver armor as an Auger squad closed in. Screams, shouted orders to regroup. Flash of blinding gold as an artillery orb struck the tier, taking out Auger and mine alike. More of my dead climbing the wall of the tenth tier, armor pierced by lightspear bolts, quickswords digging in as they worked upward. At the top, Nogilian in his white armor, charging a pair of Augers, a blade in each hand, their heathwhips sailing over his back as he ducked low.