We rode down into the mist. And so we did not so much enter the encampment as have it spring up around us amidst the dampened quiet. As out of nowhere men clattered and trotted and repositioned themselves. All looked like ghosts through the eyes of the White Swarm, chameleon being in effect. Everywhere, captains shouted orders. Where before, everyone had seemed confined to waiting, now I saw men digging even with their helmets. Lines formed up and even marched in combat formation, shoulder to shoulder with their shields raised and swords extended. Jerem Cozak questioned a captain and turned to follow a line directly north, towards that corner of the encampment along its eastern edge.
Here were fewer men, and I knew we had ridden ahead of the realignment. Soon we came to the first bodies lying on the torn earth. Most were torn in two as though by some great blade, innards strewn across the black and loamy round. My warlord found a captain who was directing a squad carrying the injured up from the water’s edge.
“Behind the fifth defile,” the man said. “Get them to stand if they can help it.” And then, when he saw who came, “Warlord!” and turned to face us fully.
“Valkyries?” asked Jerem Cozak.
The man, who I saw now had no hair atop his head, nodded. “Riding machines, like we saw at Sepira. They carried these things,” he said, and waved his arm to indicate. From behind us, there came the rattling advance of reinforcements.
“Cassan Vala,” said Jerem Cozak, shaking his head. “Where are you? Why did you not come? And if you took the Stair, what happened that you did you not hold them there?”
“Warlord?” the captain asked. The lines of soldiers in formation marched past us, breaking left or right, hurrying into position.
so.” He nodded toward one of the bifurcated corpses on the ground.