“I’ve led countless battles and fought in many more, and still I am not prepared for what I will likely face tomorrow. I know not how many lives have been claimed by my hand, but I hope dearly that I need not take any in the days to come.Excerpt from the journals of Captain Balax Gaur
But if I must…please forgive me, Asha.”
“Captain…weren’t they..? The Orissir said…”
“But why didn’t we capture them? They were right there! We could have ended the war before it began!”
Karth turned his head to face the sergeant, a burly bronze scalar with a confused look on her face.
“We’d have lost good people,” he said, eyes hard. “The citizens would have intervened. But now we know they’re here, and we know they’re not with the rest of their forces.” He looked over his shoulder at the village disappearing into the distance behind him, then turned back to the sergeant. “We can still end the war.”
“We crush them at Jecalli Harbour, scatter their forces. If they lose their military backing they won’t be taken seriously. Cut the dragon from the head, rather than cutting the head from the dragon.”
The sergeant nodded. “You’re certain we’ll win?”
Karth looked westwards, beyond the distant hills to where his former brethren lurked. “I’m certain.”
The captain of Scale’s 8th Legion addressed his troops with a deep, snarling bellow. “We make for Jecalli – double time it!”
Balax set the stone down on the table with a trembling hand, took a deep breath to compose himself, then turned to face the others.
“Was that the Commander, sir?” asked Karith, hand on one hip.
“What news?” Sargon straightened his posture, looking to the Captain.
“…They’ve just encountered the 8th Legion.”
“Aye. They’re marching for us.”
Silence fell over the group.
“Thrilling,” ventured Baldaar after a few moments. Karith and Sargon cracked momentary smiles, but their faces quickly returned to grimaces.
“How many?” asked Sargon.
“Enough,” said Balax, splaying his hands over the table the group were gathered around, staring at the map of the island spread over it.
“Did the commander have instructions?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
Balax pushed himself up from the table, crossing a few steps to stare up at the draconic skeleton that dominated the chamber, his hands clasped behind his back. The others were silent.
“Well, it’ll take them a while to march that many through the mountains, at least. We have a bit of breathing room,” said Sargon.
“It’s still only a few days,” said Balax.
“Well, what are our options?” asked Karith, crossing her arms, “We stand and fight–”
“We’ll likely lose.”
“We won’t get far enough away in time.”
“Ship’s gone. We’re backed into a corner.”
“We’re assuming that it’s just us – are the commander and his companions coming back?” asked Sargon.
“I’m not sure,” said Balax.
The group quietened again, Balax continuing to stare at the skeleton above, impassive. After a few moments, Karith ventured a question.
“Is it…is it Tarek?”
Balax nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“Fuck!” Baldaar mouthed at the other two, scrunching his face in comedic dismay. They smirked.
“…You can’t blame yourself, sir. He made his choice,” said Sargon.
Balax sighed, turning around to face the others and crossing back to the table. “I know. This was bound to happen eventually.” He cracked a smile. “Double the watches, hide as much as possible inside. No open fires. We’ll await word from the commander.”
The others nodded.
“And if it’s Her will that we go out, we’ll go out with a fight.”
“Reports just came in, sir. The 8th Legion were just dispatched for the western coast, Jecalli Harbour.”
“The whole legion?”
“They’re moving against the Markex?”
“I think so, sir.”
“How long until they arrive?”
“Difficult to say, sir, depends on the route. Within the week.”
“…Then we’d better get a move on.”