Aviir had fortunately told Dan about the majority of the races present on Valhalla, and how to recognize them. She had told him about kyrie and humans, but also about elves, vipers, dragons, soulborgs, marro, and orcs, among others. This was the only reason Dan knew what he was looking at, and knew also to instantly drop flat to the ground before he was seen.
The party of orcs below was large. Much larger than the group of carts Dan was with. He guessed they would be outnumbered nearly two to one, and if everything Aviir had said about orcs was true, Dan knew that was not a situation he wanted to be in.
He thought fast. The orcs were moving away from the hill, and away from the carts. But Dan could see the trail the carts would follow, and it crossed directly in front of where the orcs were headed. Aside from the hills, the landscape was a flat grassy plain. There was no way the orcs wouldn’t see them if they rounded the hill.
Pushing with his hands, Dan slid a ways down the hill. Once he was sufficiently down the slope, he stood and ran down the rest of the way to the slow-moving line of carts below.
“Orcs,” he gasped to the nearest soldier. “Lots of orcs.”
The kyrie looked at him blankly for a moment, and then with one powerful downstroke of his wings, leapt to the air. He kept low, and alighted on the top of the hill in a crouch. Dan watched him from below. A moment later, the soldier returned, landing quickly on the ground and silently signaling the carts to come to a halt.
“They’re making for a canyon nearby,” he said to Dan. “They won’t see us if we stay put for a few minutes.”
“What are orcs doing here?” Dan asked. “I thought these were Vydar’s lands.”
“They are,” the soldier said. “A fact I would be more than happy to remind them of if we had more men. They’ll be reported back to Vydar once we arrive in Llynar. For now, the most we can do is wait.”
The kyrie signaled to the other two soldiers, and they flew over silently. “Scout out the orcs,” he told them. “Keep below the horizon, but try to find out why they’re here, and more importantly, how they slipped past our castles.”
The two soldiers nodded, and flew to the top of the hill, where they laid down flat against the ground as Dan had done. They inched forward until they were out of sight.
Dan waited, leaning against his cart. The remaining soldier spread the word to the occupants of the other carts. A minute passed by. Two. Three. Four.
Five minutes, and still the two soldiers hadn’t returned. Ten minutes. Dan no longer knew how long they had been gone. After what seemed like nearly an hour, the two soldiers finally appeared over the hill, flying down towards them. Dan guessed the orcs must be in the canyon by now, otherwise the kyrie would never risk being seen. They landed nearby, and Dan was able to overhear what they said to the third soldier.
“They’re moving deeper into Anund,” one of them said. “I heard one of them say they were moving on Joren.”
“Too bold,” said the third soldier. “Even for the stupidest of orcs.”
“That’s where it gets strange,” the first soldier said. “One of them was grumbling about having to move in daylight, all because of some sort of big operation Utgar has. He mentioned how a lot of Utgar’s forces are moving north, avoiding the enemy, getting into ‘position’. He was shut up pretty quickly by the leader, but we heard him say that this operation would ‘catch the alliance unaware.’ It sounded to me like these orcs are part of a much bigger strike force, getting ready to attack the alliance, possibly even Anund itself. Vydar’s got to be warned immediately.”
“I agree,” the third soldier said. “We can’t wait until we get to Llynar. Return to the Citadel and tell Vydar what you’ve seen. Tell no one else.”
“Yes sir,” the kyrie said.
“Before you go: was there anything else? Any hint of the size of the army, or the position? Anything?”
The kyrie paused, thinking. “The orc did say something… I think it must have been a code word, possibly the name for the operation.”
“What was it?”
“Fallback. He called it Operation Fallback.”
They moved out shortly afterwards, as the first soldier winged his way back to Vydar. Dan climbed back into his cart as they rolled out, the remaining two soldiers having first ascertained that the orcs were well within the canyon.
He was temporarily distracted from the sights and smells about him. Instead, he was focused on what the soldier had said: ‘Operation Fallback.’ He hadn’t given the word a second thought when he spoke to Vydar, but now things weren’t making sense. Vydar had said it was a prisoner transfer, but what could a band of orcs in the middle of Anund have to do with that?
Had Vydar lied to him? It made perfect sense that there would be prisoner transfers after all, but now that Dan thought about it, what he had overheard at the door didn’t make much sense either. Hadn’t the red kyrie said the ‘timing was critical’? Why would the timing of a prisoner transfer be critical?
Dan watched the nearest of Vydar’s soldiers marching beside the lead cart. What did it mean? The soldier had said that the orcs were moving on another village, Joren, if Dan remembered. That couldn’t have anything to do with a prisoner transfer. No, Vydar must have lied. But if that was the case… then what was Operation Fallback really about?
Dan didn’t have enough information. He was fairly certain that whatever was going on, Vydar had lied to him, and had a hand in these orcs’ appearance. Dan sat back, watching the blue sky overhead. There were no clouds, and the vastness of the sky made him suddenly feel small, in a very large and very real world. Clearly there was more to this ‘Operation Fallback’ than Dan knew. And now that he thought about it, he supposed that was as it should be. He knew very little about this war after all. There was probably a logical explanation.