He did not answer me. The evening turned to night. We met at the crossing the largest group of valkyries we ever had, three of four thousand strong. A hundred mastodons did not return. Another fifty were dispersed before my eyes on the one hundred and twenty first breath. They vanished in the Light.
The fifty-ninth tower fell. The charges of valkyries grew larger still, five or six thousand strong. These only harrowed the very front lines at the crossing, where the Swarm still sat heavily as mist. Then they turned away. But I thought I saw, on two successive charges, the same one-armed Auger in the lead, wielding his heatwhip with ferocity. Were these, at last, the final valkyries remaining?
At midnight, the sixty-first tower fell. There was silence across the valley for about half a watch. Jerem Cozak moved the last of the artillery into positions throughout the encampment, where they could take aim at the towers along the western wall. Not more than one hundred disks remained. At the same time, infantry darted back our way between pulses of Light, because room was needed at the crossing. They fell in line by thousands between our groups of mastodons. Jerem Cozak led our herd as far west as possible, to a place where I could see the artillery through the low-settling mist of the White Swarm. No more valkyries charged the crossing.
“Why the change?” I asked him. “It’s not our turn to go.”
“We’re the vanguard of the column,” he replied. In my mind the battlefield flipped, and I saw it. He was lining us up to take the city when the last towers fell.
“Why are you breaking up the herds?” I asked, feeling the slow cutting sting of anxiety through my beast. “Wouldn’t it be better to charge through as one?”
He turned to look at me. “Do you still not understand? They must be able to march past us.”
“But why –”