attack didn’t fit anything else. Orocs were the only race that carried their dead away, the only race that would take children. Saplings, they called them. Reverence for the young ran deep in their culture.
The earthen spikes were the clincher. Oroc earth mages used spikings in their attacks. Harvesters, the oroc name for a hunter, left massive earthen spikes along the edges of the Rocmire forest, a boundary for the lands they hunted. This killing field Jaegen had become was the end result of the same style of magic; and combat.
An attack of this scale was unheard of. This wasn’t a simple clash or border dispute. This village had been left as a message. Drayston was supposed to know that someone wasn’t happy. But which clan? Or were the Rocmire orocs untied? Most of all, Reynolds wondered what the message was. Why were the orocs ready to declare war on humans?
Draden spat on the ground. “Permission to check the outlying areas, sir?”
Reynolds nodded, still intently studying the village, ignoring Corporal Mikkels for the moment.
Draden kicked his horse into a gallop, riding out of the ruined village to the west. He had family out that way, if Reynolds remembered correctly.
“Branon,” Reynolds shouted. “Get over here!”
A nearby soldier stiffened his back and hurried up. “Yes, sir.”
“Ride back and inform Lord Drayston that we suspect Jaegen was attacked by orocs. There are no known survivors as of yet. We’re tracking the attackers, have the castle send two more units to bury the dead.”
“Orocs, sir?” Branon asked. Reynolds could see the confusion written across the private’s face.
“Yes. Orocs.” Reynolds narrowed his eyes. “Now why aren’t you mounting your horse, Guardsman?”
Branon might’ve been freshly assigned to Drayston, but hesitation had been the death of many a soldier. If a war with the orocs had begun—and Reynolds was pretty sure it had—best to break him of bad habits quickly, for his own sake as well as others’. The inexperienced guardsmen clued in on Reynolds’s mood, clambered onto his horse, and headed east.
“Orders, sir?” Mikkels asked.
“Round them up, Corporal.”
Mikkels loosed a shrill whistle. Drayston soldiers emerged from wreckage and the few standing structures in the village, marching back to their horses. The two dozen men of the squad would be no match for an oroc war party, especially not if they had sent an entire clan.
“A village has been attacked, everyone killed. This cannot stand. We have to try and rescue any survivors … which I believe there are.” Reynolds rode out in front of the line. “They have several hours on us, but even orocs can’t outrun horses.”
“Sir,” Mikkels said, “are we enough to defeat an oroc raiding party, even if we can find them?”
“No,” said Reynolds. “We aren’t. But that doesn’t matter right now.”
He looked Mikkels in the eyes. “They slaughtered an entire village, Corporal, and took the children. They still have those children, and their only chance of survival lies with us right now. We will follow them to the edge of Rocmire, where we have a chance. We cannot let them lose us.”
Mikkels opened his mouth, but then shut it and tilted his head in compliance.
“Move out,” Reynolds said, turning his mount south.
Tetra followed the orocs until the sun hung low over the horizon. What would he do once he caught them? He’d glimpsed the larger party ahead of the rear guard, but the slow pace of the orocs covering their passage made them fall farther behind with every step. Save her.… Twice, he’d been sure they’d spotted him, though they hadn’t split off to come accost him. Orocs were notorious for being impossible to catch unawares. Of course, they were also known for being peaceful, if reclusive healers.
The ground sloped gently downhill as they drew close to the Mirewall. Tetra had learned about the Mirewall, but never