On the eighty eighth day,
the first valkyries broke through the crossing. Or maybe Marcus let them through, I do not know. There were so many casualties down there in the fog that the Neverborn were holding the center of the lines against every charge, to keep the men from breaking. But the valkyries came darting like flies unto the plain in the warm still sunny afternoon and we could not hit them even with massed spearfire. I aimed and released as swiftly as I could, again and again, until the whisk of the lightspear became a constant whisper in my ear. The valkyries were only a few hundred, but savaged the artillery, which could not turn fast enough to counter them. The smell of blood and death came up to us along with the cold mud stink of the river.
We lost a dozen disks before Jerem Cozak commanded that we do what I dreaded: charge them on our mastodons. He took the whole center of the front line with us, probably three thousand beasts and their riders. This was necessary because we could not match the valkyrie’s speed. We had to cut them off.
Naturally, the Augers broke formation and scattered by squads. We charged and they sped, darting left or right but always slipping further north. They drew us further and further from our lines and toward the river. The wind sang around my ears and the iron muscles of my mastodon corded and bunched beneath me and we finally caught a squad along the water’s edge. They were far lighter than artillery, and I downed two just by swiping my tusks in the right moment – but the stinging, scalding pain came after, when the valkyries crashed into the ground and exploded.
I fully swapped sensoriums even before the shock of fire hit. And the sharp sensations confirmed the reason for my dread: the high keening sound of the Towers of Light came from overhead. We’d gotten too far from the lines. We could not make it back in time. I’d been counting breaths.
“Light!” Jerem Cozak shouted. “The Towers! Into the river! Against the cliffs!”