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Basic Training—8th Week

12th Infantry Regiment training depot, outside Bainsmarket.
15th of Solesh, 611 AR.

“Everyone cease fire! Mr. Léandre, what are you shooting at!?” Reynolds yelled in Joffrey’s ear. Joffrey winced as he popped the breach of his rifle.

“The enemy, sir,” he replied lamely, checking the breach was clear of paper cartridge remnants. Fourth Platoon was having their day’s turn at the range, which was actually just the digging field converted into a firing line. Today, instead of the generic paper-on-steel they normally used as targets down-range, the officers had set up dummy soldiers very convincingly dressed as Khadoran Iron Fang pikemen. Iron Fangs wore heavy plate armor that would turn a bayonet charge, and carried tower shields that could stop a bullet even up close. Thirty such dummies had been set in a line one hundred yards down the muddy field. The entire platoon was in a kneeled firing position, taking carefully-aimed shots at their targets.

“Apologies for my confusion, because where I’m standing, you haven’t hit a single Khadoran!” Reynolds said, projecting loudly so the entire platoon could hear. This was meant to be a lesson, clearly. Joffrey paused, looking at his superior in confusion.

“But sir, I’ve hit all ten of my last shots,” Joffrey said, puzzled.

“Are you contradicting me, recruit?” Reynolds demanded.

“No sir,” Joffrey replied automatically. The rest of the platoon avoided looking at either of them.

“What have you been hitting with your shots, Mr. Léandre?” Reynolds asked impatiently.

“Uhm, dead center of the Khadoran’s shield, sir,” Joffrey said. True enough, the triple anvil that was the symbol of the Khadoran flag in the middle of the tower shield was peppered with bullet strikes; so much so that it was nearly unrecognizable. Several of its rivets had broken loose and it hung lopsided.

“Interesting. And what did that shield ever do to you, recruit? Did it stop giving you handies in your bunk last night? Did it reject your marriage proposal?” Reynolds asked, annoyed.

“Uh, nothing, sir?” Joffrey was clearly struggling to find an answer that would satisfy the irritable Lieutenant.

“Oh, I see. And what about the Khadoran behind it? What did he ever do to you?” Reynolds asked. This got a reaction from Joffrey. The young man’s eyes narrowed angrily.

“He took my home and family, sir,” Joffrey bit back.

“That’s damned right, he did,” Reynolds said. “So why the blazes are you shooting at his shield?

Realization dawned on Joffrey’s face.

“Ah, because… it’s an easy target, sir,” Joffrey said, abashed.

“Have you stopped to think maybe that’s exactly where he wants you to be shooting? Have any of your shots breached that steel, recruit?”

“No, sir,” Joffrey said shamefully.

“Fourth Platoon, listen up, because I’m only going to explain this one time. Khadorans love their armor. If you all keep shooting at their most heavily-armored parts, you’re not going to be killing a single Red, and that is going to reflect very poorly on me when we get into Llael! Is that what you want!?”

“No sir!” they replied in unison.

“Iron Fangs and units like them are melee infantry.” Reynolds pointed at the dummies. “You do not want to get into melee with those men. They will knock your goddamn brains out if they close on you. A lot of their armor will stop a bullet, but not all of it. Focus on weaker points. I don’t want to hear another bullet hit a shield for the next hour, am I clear?”

“Yes sir!” Fourth Platoon acknowledged.

“Good! You shoot them in the head, or the knees, or the chest if they present you the opportunity. Don’t shoot those giant ridiculous shoulder plates because there’s nothing underneath them, and for the love of Morrow, stop shooting their shields!”

“Yes sir!” they said again robotically. They returned to their shots. They suddenly found that the difficulty of aiming at smaller weak points meant a drop in accuracy, but no shields were struck the rest of that practice.

They got their first batch of mail that night. Writing letters during the first six weeks of training was prohibited, but now at eight weeks the communication was open and packages from home were arriving. It was an important boost for morale. Lieutenant Reynolds dropped the mail-bag in their dormitory and let the platoon sort it out. Bull took it upon himself to distribute it among his comrades and nobody objected, largely because nobody felt confident they could take the bag from him.

“Jakes!” he said, tossing Peter a small envelope. “Merrimack!” he said, throwing a fairly hefty package at his unit leader. Jason Merrimack caught it.

“I swear to Morrow, Bull, if you forget to call me ‘Corporal’ one more damn time I’m going to tell the Captain that you’ve been smuggling extra rations at lunch,” Merrimack said in frustration.

“Sorry, Corporal,” Bull said, chastened. “Sometimes I forget and think you’re just one of us,” he said.

“C’mon, Bull! You should know by now he’s better than all of us,” Alex said, smiling.

“Bettencourt is right,” Gerard said as he sat on his bunk casually opening a letter, smiling mischievously. “The ol’ Corporal here was a long gunner, but he asked to move in with us grave diggers because shooting people from a hundred and forty yards away felt too easy,” he said, snickering. Merrimack rolled his eyes.

“I requested a transfer because my long gunner company got put on garrison, and the last thing I was going to do was sit on my ass in Steelwater Flats while our troops start an invasion,” he said testily. “If I’d known it meant coming back here to train with a bunch of morons, I’d have stayed put.”

“Hey Bull, keep the mail going,” Alex said impatiently. Neil continued distributing letters and packages.

“Why did you have to come back to basic, Corporal?” Kirk asked. Jason sighed.

“Because my company captain rather disapproved of my ‘abandoning’ my platoon to the terrible hardships of farm patrol. He said if I was going to request a transfer, he was going to make sure I ended up in a green unit of regulars where I would get shot to death,” Jason said.

“Mercy, that’s mean,” said Peter. “He couldn’t just let you go to another long gun division? The Corps. has long-gunner units too. Why bust you back to infantry?”

“I…objected…to his bureaucratic avoidance of the front,” said Merrimack vaguely.

“Wow, ok, now you have to tell us the whole story,” said Alex. “I’m all aflutter with the prospect of such juicy gossip.”

“This line of questioning is over, that’s an order,” Merrimack said firmly. “I only came down here to get my mail from you bums. I’ve collected my package, so I’m going back to the incredible luxury of the officer cabin.”

“Yes, I’m sure the other COs are wondering why you’re late for patty-cake,” Gerard said mockingly.

“Use that tone with me again and I’ll make you spit-shine the Captain’s boots,” Merrimack grumbled as he tucked his package from home under his arm and walked out of the barracks.

Kirk returned to his bunk to open his own mail. There was a very long letter from his mother going into excruciating detail about the workings of the farm since he’d left, how they’d have to hire an extra hand for the harvest or pay to get their steamjack fixed. She didn’t say it in the letter, but it was obviously a request for money when he got paid: If you’re going to abandon us, the least you can do is help us out. Kirk resented her for it but felt the pang of guilt nonetheless. He had no siblings. His mother had had a terrible time trying to conceive, and running a family farm with only one child was a real challenge. Him leaving was a burden in more ways than one.

There was also an envelope from his father. It had a slight bulge to it. The envelope, like all of their mail, had already been opened and search by their CO for contraband such as weapons, lude pictures, or food. He opened it up and pulled out a small silk pouch, sealed on all sides. On the front and back was stamped Lautus-Catharist Reagent, powdered, 1 use. There was also a very short letter in the envelope.

Kirk,

Enclosed is a single pouch of an alchemical cleansing reagent. It is meant to purify water, up to eight gallons, no matter how foul or corrupted. Stir it into the water and let it dissolve for one minute per gallon before drinking.

There may come a time when the only water you can get to is a flooded shell-hole. Do not drink crater water unless you use this; there may be a body within.

Your father.

Kirk read the letter a couple of times. He could hear his father’s characteristic clipped bluntness. There may have even been some anger in it. Kirk appreciated it nonetheless. As a doctor who had once served on the battlefield, Kirk’s father had been unable to scare his son out of the military with horror stories. So instead, he opted to show love by helping from afar in what small ways he could. Kirk felt tears threaten his eyes. It was a small gesture, virtually devoid of emotion, as was his father’s way. But it meant a lot.

Alex plopped down on the bunk beside him.

“Get anything good?” Alex asked. Kirk showed him the letter and the small pouch. Alex examined the little silk bag with curiosity. “This is some expensive stuff,” he said.

“How can you tell?” asked Kirk.

“Because if it were cheap, or even reasonable, the military would be using it during engagements. I’ve heard a couple of stories about troops being stranded without clean water. It can get bad,” Alex replied. He handed it back to Kirk. “Just promise me you’ll share it with me if we’re both dying of thirst, alright?”

“Of course,” Kirk said, taking the pouch and tucking it away into his gear duffel. He raised his chin at the package in Alex’s hand. “What about you? You get anything?”

“Nah,” Alex said disappointingly, holding up a ripped-open package. “A letter from my parents that said something about enjoying cookies, but alas, someone appears to have removed them already,” he said in frustration. “I don’t understand why outside food is prohibited during training.”

“Because if it wasn’t, Bull’s family would be sending him bags of sweets every single day until he was too fat to run,” Kirk replied.

“Yeah, I suppose so. How is your family?” Alex asked, pointing to the other letter setting on Kirk’s bed.

“My mom’s pissed and asking for money,” Kirk said. “Yours?”

“Pretty much the same, although she’s got my uncle’s kids to call on for that too,” Alex said. Alex’s four cousins were eight, nine, and ten years older than him and had left the farm for various other occupations while Kirk and Alex were still young.

“What kind of cookies did she send?” Kirk asked. Alex sniffed the package.

“Almond,” he said wistfully.

“Damn. Fat Willy probably ate them,” Kirk said in annoyance. Fat Willy had become the (very) secret nickname for Captain Willikers. They were very careful to say it quietly and infrequently lest it get back to their brutal overseer. Alex blew a raspberry.

“Well thanks Kirk. I was annoyed before, but now I’m mad. Why’d you make me think about that? That one-armed rat eating my mother’s cookies…” Alex shook his head with a scowl.

“Hey,” Kirk said quietly, ignored Alex and looking past his left ear. “What do you think Peter got?” Alex turned to look at their youngest unit mate sitting on his bunk, staring at a letter with ferocious concentration.

“I don’t know, but I didn’t realize he could read,” Alex said in surprise.

“He can’t,” said Kirk.

“Interesting,” said Alex. Kirk and Alex rose and walked to Peter’s bunk. Peter looked at them quickly, tucking the letter into his pocket. He looked ready to fight.

“Easy, easy. You look like you’re about to stab me,” said Alex, holding up his hands. Peter’s face relaxed and his body softened.

“Sorry. I’m not too keen on multiple people approaching me at once looking interested,” Peter said. He offered no further explanation.

“Um, ok,” said Alex. “We’re not going to steal your lunch. Just curious what an illiterate kid from an orphanage is doing with a letter.” Alex pointed to Peter’s pocket.

“Probably the same thing as a stupid kid with an empty sack of momma’s cookies at boot camp,” Peter fired back, looking at the torn, empty package in Alex’s hand. “Feeling frustrated.” Alex paused for a moment, then laughed.

“Come on, we’re just curious,” said Kirk, leaning against the flimsy wooden bunk. It creaked in protest.

“Fine, then you can read it to me,” said Peter, pulling the letter out of his pocket and handing it to Kirk. He unfolded it and glanced over it quickly.

“From somebody named Lucius… he says someone came asking for you at his shop,” Kirk said. “Who’s Lucius?”

Peter took the letter back, looking at it closely again.

“When I first arrived in Caspia, I didn’t enlist right away,” he said. “I began an apprenticeship with a blacksmith named Lucius. I don’t think I was too much use to him at first, but he pitied me, and I worked hard. He let me board at his shop, but he already had three apprentices and wasn’t going to feed us all, so I had to steal to eat. I knew I was probably going to get caught in the market long before I could get a real job. After a few weeks I joined up. I told him what I was doing, and asked him to mail me if anyone came looking for me. What does the letter say exactly? It’s important,” Peter asked, brow furrowed. He picked at a cut on his thumb unconsciously.

Kirk took it again and read it aloud:

“‘Peter, On second of Solesh, a man came to my shop asking for you by name. I told him only that you apprenticed here before enlisting. He seemed displeased. Asked many details about where you had gone. I said I did not know. When I asked who he was, he said he was your uncle. You asked me to mail you if someone came for you, and I have. Your life is no business of mine, but I will be upset if you bring me trouble. You should know I did not conceal anything from him, though I know very little about you. I’ve delivered this letter to a Trencher Corps. headquarter post in the Iron District and told them your name and date of enlistment. I assume they will deliver it to you since I do not know where you are. If you do not complete your training in the Corps., please do not come back here. The man who asked about you had an ill-favored look and I do not wish him to return.’ Signed Lucius.

“Damn,” Peter whispered. As Kirk read the letter, Peter’s face morphed from concern to real fear.

“You have an uncle?” Kirk asked, surprised.

“Nope,” said Peter, his lips a thin line. “But I have a feeling I know who that was.”

“Who?” Alex asked.

“Back in Turinsdale, there was a man there who called himself ‘Uncle Kay.’ He is not a good man. He came and went quite a bit. One of his jobs was to track down escapees.” Peter’s eyes grew haunted. “I never saw him fail.” Alex and Kirk looked at each other.

“I’m guessing escapees weren’t brought back to a kind reception,” Kirk said. Peter shook his head, staring forward.

“He would bring them in, take them straight to the orphanage Overseer’s office, and we wouldn’t ever see them again,” he said.

“Holy Morrow. That is some dark shit,” Alex breathed. Peter looked up.

“I’d like to see him try to find me in a warzone,” Peter said, a flinty hardness coming back to his eyes. He reached under his pillow and pulled out his bayonet blade, placing it in his lap. “And if he does, I think he won’t find me quite so easy to subdue as the others,” he said.

“Not in a trencher platoon, he sure as hell won’t,” said Kirk. “What does he look like? So I know who to shoot, if I see him.” Peter’s brutal edge instantly faded into a boyish smile. It was unsettling. He slid the huge blade back under his pillow.

“Thanks Kirk! Big, over six feet, with a greasy bowl-cut of black hair and heavily pocked cheeks. He looks kinda skinny, but he’s strong,” Peter said. “And quick. Usually wears baggy clothes to hide weapons.”

“Peter, I don’t know what the hell kind of place Turinsvale was, but I don’t think that was an orphanage,” Alex said, eyes wide. Peter shrugged.

“A building where children nobody cares about are kept? Sounds like an orphanage to me,” Peter said.

“Well, I guess, but I mean that’s not what orphanages are like, kids vanishing,” Alex said.

“Oh?” asked Peter. “And what are they like?”

“Corvis is a cesspit. The orphanages in Caspia aren’t like that,” Alex said firmly. “We’re a civilized nation for Morrow’s sake. The Church of Morrow–”

“You’ve been to the orphanages in Caspia, have you?” Peter asked skeptically. Alex squirmed.

“Well no–”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” interrupted Peter, tearing up the letter. “Not you and not nobody else. Orphans exist because nobody wants them. If they did, there wouldn’t be orphanages.” There was an awkward pause.

“Hey,” said Kirk. “You’re not an orphan anymore. The Corps. is your family,” he said firmly. Peter smiled.

“Sounds good to me,” said Peter.

Alex simply shook his head and began walking away. “Hell, you know your life is bad when the prospect of having Captain Willikers as your grandpa is a pleasant thought,” he muttered.

***

Corporal Jason Merrimack hiked across the compound, shifting the package under his arm. He was headed to the cluster of drab buildings the enlisted men had taken to calling ‘The Palace’. It was both a dig at the ugly spartan living arrangements and a way of concealing their jealousy that COs got to sleep in a private room that had a closing door. Those luxuries aside, it was hardly idyllic.

Merrimack was the only NCO on base. The other officers were either freshly-trained out of the Strategic Academy in Caspia, or the training staff. He felt terribly out of place here. He was the only unit leader assigned to The Palace. He’d requested to live in the barracks with the other recruits, but Captain Willikers had denied it for some unknowable reason.

His unit had, at first, been rather resentful of his odd position; having real authority over them while still himself ‘in training’. The other unit leaders had been selected based on merit by the lieutenants early on to lead their squad mates, but they were still all unranked trainees. Typically, unit leaders who excelled in training were promoted shortly after graduation so their junior rank matched their authority. For all intents and purposes, Jason was of equal non-rank to his squad mates, like all the other unit leaders. Except he also wasn’t.

It was a strange, uncomfortable position. He’d had to work extra hard to earn his unit’s respect, and while their complaints about his superiority had gone from resentful bitterness to good-natured teasing, he still didn’t like it. He also couldn’t come down too hard on them with disciplinary action or he’d alienate them. He was willing to let control slip a little in training if it meant building unit cohesion and respect for his leadership, if not for his rank.

The fact that the lieutenants were also uneasy around him didn’t help. They outranked him, and he was utterly uncompromising in his respect for their command. He never had to be told something twice and executed all orders during training without hesitation. Unfortunately this did not gloss over the fact that he, unlike them, had actual combat experience. Worse still, Captain Willikers had an irritating habit of remind the COs of their lack of combat experience in his presence.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was his combat “experience” felt like more of a technicality than a truth. Yes, he’d seen action, that was a fact. It showed on his record that he’d been in four different firefights during the brief time his company was posted along the Dragon’s Tongue River. Multiple engagements with hostile mercenaries, his record said. But the reality of the note was more nuanced and less impressive.

Right at the start of his service, Khador had invested in a fairly large force of Steelhead mercenaries to harass Cygnar’s defenses along the border with their allied Ordic neighbor; a tactic to keep the Cygnaran Fourth Army from sending assistance east to a massive siege taking place at Point Bourne. Official complaints from Cygnaran military command to the Ordic government about Ord’s porous border security somehow didn’t seem to get any traction. Meanwhile, a few hundred riflemen, armored halberdiers and fast-moving heavy cavalry kept his Forty-Second Infantry Battalion more or less locked in place. While his company was traveling from Fort Balton to a division encampment on the river, they were attacked by a large wing of riflemen and claymore-wielding cavalry. That one was scary; luckily, his COs at the time kept their head, created a firing line and repelled the charge. Merrimack sniped a Steelhead off a galloping horse in that fight. He was still proud of that shot.

Later, he was part of a bigger defense against a significant force led by a mercenary warcaster with some heavy hardware in tow: a trio of battle-worn Mangler heavy warjacks, along with a pretty large force of Steelheads whose armor and speed were being reinforced by the warcaster’s arcane energy. The front of that fight had been ugly.

But he’d been on the back line, laying down fire from a superior elevated position along with the rest of his long gunner unit. The most danger he faced that day was a single stray artillery shell that somehow drifted close to his position from way across the river. A mixed trencher and sword knight force handled the worst fighting at the front. The mercenaries took heavy casualties and there were no more significant battles after that. He was in a couple more skirmishes with some kind of militant druidic forest cult that was operating on the edge of the Thornwood along the river, but that was the end of it.

Yes, he had proven his acumen in a fight, but he had never experienced the sort of combat that many veterans in the army had gone through. The Cygnaran army was diverse, robust, and experienced. It had to be. Some of the greatest military units in the entire Iron Kingdoms were Cygnaran. He was just a tiny little cog who’d seen very little use in the vast machinery of war. He’d earned a promotion to Corporal after demonstration exceptional leadership in one of those battles. There was little chance for further promotion after that.

Then there was a change in his platoon’s lieutenant over to a man who disliked being told what to do, secretly drank in his office during the day and despised work. This new lieutenant also had just enough of a knack for military politics that he could finagle his way off the front, if border patrol could even be considered ‘the front’. They were all rotated to a nice, safe post in the center of Cygnaran territory where nothing ever happened and nobody’s leadership or tactical skill would be tested.

When war began to gear back up, Jason Merrimack knew if he didn’t find some way to participate he’d end up just like his platoon CO; paralyzed to immobility by conflicting desires to prove himself in real battle yet too scared to try.

That’s when he requested a transfer.

He probably should have been placed in a Trencher Corps. long gunner unit, gotten a little extra training to get on par with the more aggressive Corps. and utilized the experience and weaponry he already knew. Instead, his furious CO had ordered him into a general trencher infantry unit, more or less forcing him to start over.

So here he was. Starting over.

He faded out of his reverie as he approached the central command building. Here in the center of the disorganized clump of officer housing was a medium-sized hall where officer briefings were held. It also doubled as an informal meeting space for the ranked men. Merrimack stamped his feet on the bottom step off the door to kick mud off his boots and walked in.

All four of the platoon leaders were sitting on a bench facing the briefing blackboard. One of the training lieutenants, a woman with short-cropped black hair and an austere face, was leaning against the messy blackboard with arms folded, talking with the the men. Merrimack couldn’t remember her name. All five of them turned to look at him when he entered.

“Corporal,” said Jacob Webster, the lieutenant of First Platoon. He in particular was rather frosty towards Merrimack, only ever calling him by his rank. It was just another subtle reminder that he didn’t belong.

Merrimack briefly considered resubmitting his request to Willikers to bunk with his platoon. He wondered why he had come into the hall in the first place. He usually attended officer briefings, even though he wasn’t technically invited. Staying abreast of things felt important, and it seemed to please Willikers, so he kept it up. But this wasn’t an official briefing.

“Lieutenant,” he replied coolly. He sat down heavily on the bench next to them.

“Goodies from home?” Lieutenant Reynolds asked, looking at Merrimack’s package.

“A few books from my brother. I like to read,” Merrimack said.

“Anything good?” Reynolds asked.

“Depends on whether or not you like smut,” said Merrimack with a smile. They all chuckled.

“Lieutenant Sura was just giving us a bit of intel,” said Kel Black, Secnd Platoon’s lieutenant. Merrimack looked at her expectantly.

“I was telling these gentlemen that word’s come down from on high: General Worley wants Hammer Company mission-briefed and prepared to deploy the moment they walk out of this depot. That means walking them through mission details the last couple weeks of training. Willikers is ordering some sand tables being drawn up. You all best study them as soon as you can.”

Typically, mission briefing and additional training was conducted after basic was complete. The fact that command was trying to mission prep their totally green company before anyone had graduated was an alarming sign.

“Why the rush?” Merimack asked. “The Firsst Army hasn’t entered Llael yet. Hammer Company haven’t even started weapon specialization training. We won’t even be covering warjack coordination, they’re supposed to get that prior to deployment.”

“Worley said he doesn’t need crack soldiers from this company, he just needs competent bodies that know what direction they’re going,” Lieutenant Sura explained. “There are four other brand-new companies graduating at the same time we are. The front line pushing into Llael is going to be long as an ogrun’s pecker, gentlemen, so they need every grunt they can get,” Sura explained.

Merrimack’s uneasiness increased. Were they about to turn Hammer Company into cannon fodder just to have good numbers on the line?

“We’ve still got four more weeks with these boys,” said Reynolds. “They’re already shooting straight, they know basic maneuvers and navigational training starts next week. We’ll make them ready,” Reynolds stated confidently. Merrimack wished he shared Reynolds’ certainty. They would be competent at graduation, sure, but that was not the same as being ready for hard combat.

“Attrition has been a bit higher than average,” Lieutenant Webster said with concern. “I hope we don’t walk out of here in a month with half a company.”

“Hammer Company will get filled out with vets before deployment. It won’t be pure green,” said Lieutenant Linwood, Third Platoon’s CO. “Besides, attrition tends to decrease once they get guns in their hands. Numbers should hold steady now that they’ve got something to keep them excited.”

“Well, there better be weapon crews among those vets,” Merrimack said cautiously. “If we’re going to have to take two weeks teaching the company mission details, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to get anyone trained on artillery or chain guns in time,” he said.

“Teach them to use rifle grenades and they’ll be fine,” Lieutenant Black said dismissively. Merrimack looked at him in surprise.

“Yeah, until we run into a warjack phalanx, or a Man-O-War unit,” Merrimack said forcefully. Man-O-War: Khadorans equipped their biggest and strongest men with hulking steam-powered armor suits that could go toe-to-toe with Cygnaran heavies and win. “I’ve watched what happens to units that run into armor with insufficient heavy support,” he said quietly.

“For Morrow’s sake, you make it sound like we have to take Llael by ourselves,” Black said in annoyance. He began ticking facts off on his hand. “We’re going in with the entire First Division and a solid chunk of the Stonebridge garrison. Well over a hundred warjacks in the initial wave, nearly six hundred light and heavy artillery pieces, three warcasters and at least twice as many junior warcasters, nearly an entire brigade worth of commandos spread across the division, and more than ten thousand fighting men with almost that number again in logistical support. On top of that, the Lord General is days away from dropping the entire Storm Division on the Khadorans in Northern Llael ahead of us. That’s another ten thousand men with the most advanced electrical tech on Caen.” Black shook his head dismissively. “If we can’t take Llael with two full divisions, then we don’t deserve to win. Between trencher bullets from the south and storm weapons in the north, we’re gonna roll the Khadorans up like a carpet,” he said with finality. “This is what we should have been doing the moment Khador invaded our ally.”

The awe-inspiring scale of the fury they were about to unleash should have eased the anxiety that had taken up residence in Merrimack’s gut, but it did not. The numbers sounded good. They always sounded good in the beginning. Things change fast in war. They were about to face an enemy that had been digging in for nearly four years and had rebuffed invasive forces from multiple neighbors. It would not be so simple as Lieutenant Black wanted it to be.

The bigger the numbers, the higher the casualties.

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