Five days march brought the battalion to a junction on the northern highway. One day marching south led them to the borders of the Creature Handler Training Camp.
The entire battalion travelled in a malaise from the events and court-martial. Competition remained between the cores, but at a less enthusiastic level, until they saw the camp rising up on the horizon. Excitement for becoming their King’s and Country's elite fighting force returned.
The camp must have spotted their approach as well.
Ten ticks of flying creatures—100 animals and their handlers—flew out from the camp, circled the entire parade three times and turned back. The leading tick was, of course, Tiger-hawks. Following shortly thereafter was a tick of dragon-dogs with broad leathery wings, long necks, and the blunt heads of bull mastiffs. A tick of bat-chucks followed, with black, velvet wings and round, furry bodies. Like the Bat-Chucks, Cat hawks were smaller than the tiger hawks, more maneuverable, and in the case of the cats, uniformly silver-tabby colored.
More ticks followed made up of similar creatures, yet probably with less experienced flyers. Even with all the studying he had done during long winters, Keo didn’t recognize some of the animals, their winged bodies carrying the head or tail of an exotic, unfamiliar animal.
There would be more creatures and handlers in the camp—the newly hatched and other land bound animals.
The quartermaster called a halt for lunch at the normal hour. Such an uproar rose from the battalion, with the camp in sight and only a few hours away, that Major Jarrellian gave them permission to eat from their emergency rations, take a short break, and return to the parade to push on to camp.