Alas- all journeys end and this is no different. Ok, maybe a little since you’ve convinced me to throw up the 2nd half of the story. The division has been routed. Kane looks dead. Nathan is trapped on Helscape. I don’t know how they’re going to get out of this one. (Ok, I do, but you don’t…yet)
Reports streamed in to the forward command center. Broken. Impossible. Shock filled the hearts of those soldiers on duty. Some wept openly, unafraid of baring their raw emotion. Others sucked in their breath. Of them all only one could have anticipated such an outcome. Only one could have predicted what had just happened. And he had failed to do so.
General Paedian Gulluette clasped his clawed hands behind his back. Dark fur bristled angrily beneath his uniform as he stalked away. Clouds of frustration filled his eyes. All of his plans, all of his dreams, threatened to crash down around him.
“General, what should we do?”
He paused in midstride. What do I tell them? Do I join them in false grief? Worrying over names on data sheets that bear little meaning to any of them? His teeth ground with the menace of a natural predator.
“We carry on. This was one battle, not a war. Losses are to be expected in combat,” he snarled.
“But an entire division, sir?” blurted out a faceless aide from the back of the room.
Rage twisted his animalistic features. When next he spoke it was a roar. “This is war! Losses are part of war or perhaps you have all forgotten what it means to be on the front lines? Let me know now. I can easily have transfers by the end of the day.”
The stunned silence that fell over the command hub was briefly satisfying, enough Gulluette felt his nerves calm enough to think clearly again.
“With the 76th gone we need to focus on the Xempsarillian’s. News will travel swiftly and this sector is now woefully underprepared. Call up the 83rd and 125th for immediate deployment. Our enemies must not muster the strength to break through our lines. Not one single starship. Not one. Am I clear?”
The resounding shouts of affirmative were enough for him. The General stormed out, his mind already focused on the next task. The more important one. It wouldn’t take long for those higher and, potentially, jealous of him to make their move. He needed to get to his co-conspirators before anyone else. As he walked Gulluette found it odd how life managed to curve when least expected.
Time was now his enemy as well.
Braxton Skrapp was in the middle of cleaning glasses, his hand shoved down one with a well-worn towel as he tried to reach the bottom when news reached Black Tide. Never before in recent memory had such news thrown the entire community into raw panic. The Imperium ambushed. An entire Berserker army poised just a few leagues away. Black Tide was sure to be the beginning in the final campaign of human extermination for the monsters. Time was finally up. It was the end at last.
Glass shattered, the mug slipping from his grasp as he managed to piece together bits of information. So many dead and missing. His thoughts immediately turned to Kane. His longtime friend and student now lost to the ages. Guilt assailed him. Braxton couldn’t help but feel responsible for Kane’s death. He wanted to cry, to break down and release so many years of pent up shame and frustration. But no. Crying served no purpose whatsoever. The weak resorted to tears when matters got too much. Braxton Skrapp had seen too much, done too much to succumb to such petty weakness.
Instead he ordered Rolf to clean up the glass and did what any sensible man with experience in the Wastes would: he began to prepare for what he knew would be the influx of survivors and stragglers as they wormed back into town. Nothing calmed a veteran’s nerves after being rattled than a stiff drink. Braxton offered a silent prayer for his friends and held on to hope that at least some yet lived.
Hope, as any man knows, if fragile in the best of times.