Operation Monsoon (0.4)

This story segment contains scenes of violence and death.

Cissean Border Defensive Line

Madiha hid behind the rubble of one of the concrete guard posts near the defensive line. It had been shattered instantly by a direct hit from an enemy shell moments ago. Unlike the scattered artillery in the first attack, this one was more spirited, with shells falling consistently and by the dozen, but the majority of the blasts simply pitted the hillside. Despite its power Nochtish artillery had a deficiency in range when compared to Ayvartan cannons: Madiha knew she could pinpoint and destroy the artillery positions given a little more time, a battery of her own, and of course, that she survived the barrage.

Around her the machine gunners and cannon operators hunkered down and prayed. There was little protection from the artillery fire sporadically hitting the line save for its inaccuracy. Already a cannon was in pieces thirty meters from Madiha’s impromptu redoubt, and she saw bodies cooked around it. A shell had fallen on top of them.

But those deaths were not without their value – she thought she knew now where the enemy’s artillery batteries were located and she was almost ready to counter.

All she needed was for her own batteries to pick up their pace and follow her instructions.

Far behind her another shell landed, and she felt a wave of heat and bits of flying dust.

Another guard post crumbled under the blast.

Madiha pulled out her compass, and held the radio speaker box to her ear, calling the gunners.

“Ready for coordinates, ma’am!” They replied.

“Load High Explosive rounds and follow my directions, then fire with all available guns.” Madiha said. She then gave them the coordinates that she had thought up, using known map sectors; she put down the radio and looked out toward her own defensive line.

All of her crews were still cowering.

“Enemy forces are firing explosive shells aimed at destroying the pillboxes, edge barriers and guard posts,” she shouted out to her crews, “they are inaccurate and you will not be killed except by a direct hit on your position! Slowly and calmly relocate yourself and your weapons away from the concrete barriers! Crouch low to the ground and keep as still as possible while fighting. Maintain a distance of 5 meters or more from other friendly positions. This will prevent multiple crews from being hit at once! Nochtish guns have lower accuracy and range than our own. You can survive this day if you follow my orders!”

As she shouted this several more shells fell around the line, most of them many meters away on the slope below them, tearing out chunks of the earth and smashing concrete pillboxes flat. One lucky shell landed a few meters in front of her, but the rubble between her and the blast shielded her from the heat and from the shell fragments. She peeked out after the blast and found an unoccupied pillbox smashed to pieces a few meters away.

Nocht was attacking the fortifications still – they must really have thought them all manned. This was a preparatory bombardment. They still had time to prepare!

Then Madiha finally heard the retort of an artillery battery close by: her own artillery guns had begun to fire using the solutions she had given them. She saw the red tracers briefly in the sky. Explosions rocked the forest a few kilometers out.

She had gotten a good bead on the enemy after observing their fire.

Almost a supernaturally good bead – she had never considered herself good at math or even terribly well educated in it at all, but she could tell almost everything about a gun and its fire by observing the situation enough. She knew her fire was accurate.

Her own batteries continued to work, dropping shells across the field into the forest. At first the enemy guns sounded and more shells started to crash around her position and several meters behind her cover. But the enemy’s fire started to slacken under the attack of her guns, until the Nochtish artillery quieted completely. Madiha hoped they had lost cannons or crew, and that they weren’t merely repositioning themselves.

Madiha raised her binoculars to her eyes and looked across the field, watching the edge of the forest and the tall, unkempt grass between the borders for signs of the enemy.

With her free hand she pulled up her radio and called Sergeant Bogana on the extreme end of the defensive line from her own position. The hillside was long enough that she could not verbally call from her end, the rightmost end, to the leftmost portion of the line – Sergeant Bogana had been one of Purana’s experienced men, and she had sent him to the other end with a hand-held radio in order to coordinate their defense of the line.

“I have lost a gun. How fares your side of the line, Lieutenant?” Madiha said.

“We lost a 76mm anti-tank gun, but we’re fine. We’ve got a half-dozen anti-tank guns and a couple of machine guns over here – but the troops have had very little training with them, I’m afraid. We’ll do our best to stop any attacks, commander.”

“Put it into perspective for me: how little training?”

“The Regional Council reduced the training times so much that I’ve barely been able to get two live fire exercises going in two months.” replied Bogana. “They know the basics of how to aim, load and shoot but they’ve hardly had time to practice in the field ma’am.”

“Grave, but not insurmountable as long as someone with experience can command them. Keep them together, Lieutenant. We can survive the day.”

Across the field the grass and shrubs, and the trees on the edge of the wood, began to sway and shake from some disturbance. Madiha focused her binoculars. She saw trees collapsing in the forest and earth being thrown up, and then she saw the black and grey exhaust blowing from the green woodland. She called out to the line for attention.

Grey steel hulks cleared the tree line and advanced across the field and toward the slope. These were Nocht M3 Hunter Assault Guns: boxy, rattling machines each mounting a somewhat short-barreled but still powerful 75mm cannon. While the placement of the cannon was unfortunate – it was stuck on one side of the chassis with limited traverse in any direction – the vehicle was well armored and had a low profile, lacking any semblance of a turret. It was also relatively quick on its tracks for an armored vehicle.

The armor advanced quickly in a tight formation, trampling the field, rolling harmlessly over the pits and the mines and the hidden barbed wire that had slowed and destroyed numerous light vehicles and infantry. They were charging the hill directly.

Madiha shouted, first to the line and then into the radio for the rest of the troops who were not within earshot, “Armor incoming! All guns to attention, begin loading armor-piercing high-explosive rounds and fire once the tanks come within 1000 meters of you! Aim for the sides of the tank or for the tracks! Avoid shooting directly at the front!”

As she shouted this the lead tank raised its gun and paused its march for a moment in order to fire a shot – a high explosive shell erupted from the gun and hurtled just past Madiha’s hiding spot and leveled a checkpoint building, casting debris over her gun line.

“Open fire!” She called out. In succession and all across the line her own guns sounded.

She heard the rhythmic cracking of the guns and saw her own shells suddenly flying the length of the field. Shells overflew the hill and crashed into the forest; they smote holes into the ground around the advancing tanks; several poorly angled shots crashed uselessly against the front and side armor of the vehicles, deflecting into the air.

Madiha counted eight tanks spread across the front, and their own fire soon joined hers in earnest. Their cannons had poor traverse, but more than enough to make up the quickly shrinking range, closing in under five hundred meters and firing their cruel shots in well-planned arcs. Enemy fire bounded off the side of hill, smashing against the crest, or roared overhead, taking chunks out of the road or the nearby buildings, showering the line with flying metal fragments and casting aside defenses in bursts of explosive force.

A series of explosions close and afar took Madiha’s senses.

She was neither hit nor even injured, but a gun near to her had gone up in smoke and flames, and she knew its crew to be dead or dying; and in that instant she also knew that an M3 had been penetrated and destroyed. She saw it go up in flames amid the grass.

This triggered something in her. Inside the cacophony of battle she felt her mind growing dull and her spirit seemed to leave her body as she realized who scored the kill.

For a strange moment, she saw through the eyes of Adesh Gurunath.

A shell landed five meters away. It hit the gun shield on a nearby cannon dead on and exploded, flinging the crew like pieces off an upturned game board. Nothing of the cannon or mount remained, all of it scattered to the air. Adesh felt the fragments of metal like hot needles falling all around him. They bit into his uniform and cut his cheek and neck.

He had wanted to weep, to crumple and beg for his life to some unseen force–

But in the same instant he grit his teeth and through hot tears he braced himself against his 76mm anti-tank gun. Lifting it by two long, metal carriage rods, he turned the piece along its side until the barrel of the gun pointed ahead of the advancing target.

He grew suddenly numb to the pain and fear.

Something was burning in him, something urged him forward.

He felt like crying, and he cried; but he also felt protected and led. Inspired.

“200 meters and closing in!” Adesh cried out, “Load AP!”

Nnenia adjusted the gun sight quickly while Eshe heaved the weighty armor-piercing shell and loaded it into the breech. Adesh and Nnenia readjusted the gun by lifting and swinging around its carriage again and again – the enemy tank kept moving.

Working as one they dropped the gun, and Eshe pulled the firing mechanism.

There was a thundering of metal and a kick back as the shell erupted from the gun and soared downhill, across hundreds of meters of the field, crashing directly through the side of the M3 assault gun. Penetrating the weaker side armor it detonated inside the hull; smoke blew from the crippled machine, and it later exploded in earnest, perhaps from abuse to its engine or to its ammunition compartment. The blast was loud enough to drown out the screaming of the enemy tanks’ own guns and the intermittent explosions across the defensive line, as if to declare the Ayvartan victory louder than that of the enemy.

Adesh, Nnenia and Eshe did not notice the explosion – by then they were readjusting their gun for the next shot as the assault guns drew into ever closer range, soon to be upon them if something was not done. They worked rapidly, with precision and confidence unknown to them before this crisis. Until today their training hours had been minimal.

All of them could feel it, something pulling at them, twisting their emotions, keeping them standing. They felt oddly familiar with war. Through the burning tears, their vision was clear; through the pain and exhaustion and nausea their bodies still moved. Adesh felt like he would collapse any second, like he had already passed the border between life and death in all but the action of dropping down. But his body did not quit him – he felt as though his soul, something indeterminate within, fought on, where he had given up.

The team turned the weapon, targeting the lead tank – Adesh felt a growing confidence in his knowledge of the gun. He felt like he had the blueprint right in his mind.

“300 meters!” He said with unnatural precision, “Load AP!”

Their gun was stationed on the far right of the line, and they had lost many comrades; from more populated sectors a renewed barrage began to cover for the missing fire from Adesh’s fallen allies. A tank that was fast approaching Adesh’s position was hit in the side of its gun mantlet, caving-in the steel and paralyzing the machine with a smoking wound to its head. They were whittling them down. Nnenia helped Eshe haul the next round, and Adesh fired it – they lacked crew discipline, switching roles constantly, but nonetheless their next shot burst through the tracks of one of the tanks causing it to lose control. Where it finally stopped, its fixed gun faced harmlessly away from the defensive line.

One by one the remaining assault guns began to fall, shells smashing tracks, striking cannon housings and warping the riveted armor, exploding in front of portholes and stunning crews. Smoke rose from the wrecks, and men escaped the hatches and were cut down by machine guns that rained fire on the grass without remorse.

“200 meters!” Adesh shouted again, “Load AP!”

Everyone loaded, aimed and took fire once again, sending a red tracer shell flying out, but the shock from their cannon was subsumed into a greater, sudden disturbance.

Their feet shook, the chains and sights on their gun rattled loudly; a blast several magnitudes larger than anything they could launch drowned out the entire battlefield.

Behind them a thick column of smoke rose around the headquarters building, fires raging behind the cloud. There were several detonations each louder than the next, followed by the pounding of rubble on concrete as the building completely collapsed and fell over the hedges. Flames danced within the cloud of dust and smoke at the top of the hill.

There was little time to take in the astonishing magnitude of the HQ’s demolition – the silence along the line lasted only a moment after the collapse, before they heard renewed cries and roaring engines from across the field. Dozens of gray uniformed riflemen and several additional assault guns charged toward the field, treading the safe routes cut through the traps by the first armored spearhead. Adesh and crew huddled behind their gun shield as the approaching riflemen took quick shots between their charges.

Adesh felt the strange fire in him going out.

He began to shake, weary and unused to battle.

Though he reached in his mind for that experience he had before, it slowly left him.

“900 meters,” he mumbled, stammering, his voice failing him, “load High-Explosive.”

Nnenia tried to lift the gun to move its barrel back in line with the approaching riflemen, but she hardly could. Eshe reached down into a big sack, and tugged on a heavy explosive shell, trying to lift it into the breech. “Adesh, help me with this,” Eshe cried, his hands and knees shaking, “I can barely move it, I’m sorry, I feel dizzy.”

Adesh’s thoughts grew more alien and distant. He could barely hear or speak anymore.

His guardian spirit had awoken and left him and he did not know.

“Captain? Captain, are you hurt?”

Madiha heard a sharp cracking noise deadly close to her, and jolted back to life, shaking as though experiencing a convulsion.

She looked in every direction, a sudden and nauseating panic overtaking her. Her eyes had not been her own and they still weren’t.

She heard Parinita’s voice, but in front of her she saw only carnage of ages past. A warlord in the savannah guiding his spearmen to battle against another tribe; a shaman, in a straw hut on a journey to the spirit world, seeing and tasting the war that his tribe was waging; a soldier in the pre-modern age, when Ayvarta first fought Lubon, who knew exactly how far every bit of his inaccurate grapeshot would go; and his subordinates below the ramparts, whose minds he manipulated to make them fiercer, to keep them from buckling as they charged out to the field, a vanguard sure to die against the line of muskets braced against them; and a little girl at the end of the Empire whose cursed eyes coordinated revolution across all of Ayvarta, as the socialist Hydra plan was put into place–

She grabbed hold of her head, grit her teeth and screamed.


Her vision slowly cleared, and the pounding in her brains slowly subsided.

She was shaken violently out of her stupor when a high-explosive shell flew overhead and crashed several meters behind them, punching a hole into the road out to the headquarters building – of which nothing was left but a pillar of smoke.

Parinita huddled close to her, behind the rubble; after the shell struck, she rose from cover and put a round from an anti-tank rifle down the field, braced against the rocks. She cursed under her breath and dove behind cover again, working the bolt on the rifle.

“Captain, are you injured? I’ve been trying to cover you with this BKV,” she ran her hands along the BKV-28 anti-tank rifle, loading a round in frustration, “but I can’t stop them! And I think the Inspector is done with the demolition but I can’t get a hold of her!”

Madiha silently took the rifle from her hands and inspected it briefly. She peeked from her cover and looked out to the field, where the Nocht soldiers had begun a new charge. Many riflemen ran across the open field, only to step into mines or fall under the withering fire of the defensive line’s few remaining machine guns. The bodies were already piling. More successful were the men huddling behind a renewed assault gun charge, advancing on the line in the same route that the earlier, now broken spearhead had tread. They were around 500 meters in – and closing. At around 100 meters it would be their victory.

“Parinita, radio in a howitzer barrage on the field after I take this shot.” Madiha said.

Parinita nodded and took the radio from Madiha.

“Captain, you’re bleeding.” She said, in a stammering voice.

Madiha felt it then, a slick sensation across her upper lip and under her nose. She wiped her face with her hands, and found that her nose was bleeding. She felt no pain, no injury. “We will lament the lost fluid soon enough.” She said. “Be ready with that radio.”

Using the BKV’s bipod she braced the gun on the rubble and faced the lead tank in the new formation. There were no enhanced optics on the rifle, only fixed iron sights, a major failing of the BKV that was scarcely ever corrected – but Madiha knew just where to shoot. She had known it the second she touched the BKV, the instant she braced it on the rocks and looked down the irons toward the advancing armor. She pulled the trigger.

BKV rifles were long and clunky and made a lot of noise, but their shots went fast and they could cover this range easily. Madiha saw the effects of her attack almost instantly. The round pierced one of the road wheels, knocking it clean off the tank.

She reloaded quickly and fired again, this time through the track, splitting it.

The lead tank lost control and veered to its right, slamming into an adjacent vehicle.

Nocht’s spearhead slowed as the infantry following behind the knocked-out tanks had to scramble to find new cover, all the while the machine guns and AT guns on the hill took the opportunity to hone in on them and inflict more accurate fire. Parinita called in the fire mission, and Madiha was impressed by the thorough coordinates she gave.

Madiha heard the howitzers shooting from behind their lines and saw the shells fall around the infantry and assault guns. A hit across the lightly armored tops of the assault guns might have struck the engines dead-on and killed the machines immediately, but she could not hope for such accuracy – carnage was the more immediate goal.

Carnage, she got: the entire field went up in smoke and flames after the first few shells.

Madiha was taken aback by the ferocity of the blasts, a series of explosions all across the borderline from the field to the forest. They coincided with her fire mission, but her guns could not possibly have done this. There were massive explosions, like several dynamite charges going off at once, blasting the whole field between Ayvarta and Cissea; men butchered, turned to pieces instantly from underfoot; massive steel chunks from the assault guns flying through the air; deafening blasts and blinding flames swallowing the foot of the hill. It was as if hell itself had opened beneath the enemy, digging its demons a burning trench. Columns of fire streaked across the field. It was a horrific show.

“What was that?” Parinita cried, but Madiha only knew this from reading her lips.

The moment her mouth opened another blast went off and silenced them both.

Madiha raised the radio to her mouth and shouted herself hoarse, calling for a retreat from the front line. She picked up the BKV, took Parinita’s hand and made for the burnt-out guard post a few meters behind her. Ahead she saw trucks coming down the road, led by a KVW half-track, and she ordered everyone to run for the safety of the trucks and prepare to evacuate. Then she heard someone behind her calling through a sudden silence.

“Captain Nakar, please wait!”

Madiha found a figure hailing her and moving in from the line of pillboxes, carrying a shovel and a green metal case. She stopped, and bid Parinita to stop as well. The figure was a familiar KVW engineer, dressed in the green KVW rifle squadron uniform but with a shawl and utility belt indicating engineer status. When she caught up with them, the engineer had a stony expression, and her breathing and demeanor was eerily calm – she was not stressed at all by the explosions. Her long wavy black hair was a little tossed about, and her brown skin was going slightly gray with exposure to ash and smoke.

“Captain,” the KVW engineer saluted, and then tonelessly continued, “At the order of Inspector Kimani I triggered all of the explosives that had been hidden under the field as Last Resort measures, via cable charges – I apologize that it was not done more promptly, but I found it difficult to dig up the old fuses, and Gowon’s staff was of little help in finding them. We also demolished the headquarters to prevent it falling to the enemy.”

That explained the explosions; the engineer had detonated the entire field under Nocht’s feet. It was not Madiha’s work. She had been saved at the last minute here.

“Good work, Sergeant Agni,” Madiha said, trying to keep a strong front despite her bewilderment with the events transpiring, “I take it then that the 3rd Motorized Division has arrived to cover the evacuation then. Are we ready to depart now?”

“Yes, we are all here, but I’m afraid we had to commandeer vehicles from nearby towns to have enough to start evacuating the base.” Sgt. Agni said, “Battlegroup Ox is woefully lacking in motorization, unlike the KVW. But nonetheless we are ready.”

Madiha’s head had cleared entirely, and her nose had ceased to bleed.

Through a mild headache she took stock.

Behind them, the field and most of the hill had become an inferno, the sky darkening with the smoke, the corpses of fallen soldiers burning within raging, open flames. Madiha thought that the traps along the border must have been more elaborate than she could have ever imagined – and yet they had failed. This area was no longer defensible. Adjar had been breached, and Nocht was rolling in to attack them over the open terrain. Certain structures in their government had predicted and had feared this with every fiber of their being for the past few weeks. Nothing concrete had been done to allay that fear. None of their cries were listened to. Now a border of flames stalled Nocht, but only temporarily. There were probably breaches elsewhere in the dominance. They had to leave quickly.

“Parinita, I suspect I will need you close in the coming days.” Madiha said.

“Yes, I had been meaning to say something about that as well.” Parinita said. She tied up her strawberry-colored hair into a ponytail while she spoke with renewed determination, and not a hint of her stuttering. “I had no love and little respect for Major Gowon, Captain. Few people in Ox had any – so, while it might be damning you with faint praise, I feel a lot better led by you, Captain. We survived all of this thanks to you.”

She bowed her head, and tried to smile a bit. She raised her left arm in a stiff salute.

“I feel as though the full reality of what has happened has not sunk in for me, Captain. If I weep, later on, or if I shake, I hope you will understand. But please allow me to serve you even if I serve with tears in my eyes. Thank you, and spirits defend you.”

Parinita held her salute. There were indeed tears in her eyes.

Madiha felt like asking the same of her – but instead she simply nodded and smiled.

Sergeant Agni led them from the front lines, with Madiha shouting for any stragglers to put grenades into the barrels of their anti-tank guns, to deny them to the enemy, and then to leave their positions behind and follow her. There were few people to call on – of all her emplacements across the defensive line, barely six or seven still stood.

She had lost almost all of the impromptu defense that Lt. Purana and Bogana had managed to build, and had it not been for the cable charges hidden in the field, they would have all been lost in the end. Shambling away from their positions as though dazed by strong drink, the soldiers destroyed their guns and headed up the road.

At the top of the slope, near the burning HQ, there were many trucks full of troops leaving the base, and towing the leftover guns behind them. A large, green, armored truck with four antennae and a machine gun turret stood prominently in the midst of the evacuation, and Madiha and Parinita made their way to it.

Inspector Kimani sat in the back, and saluted them as they approached.

“Good work, Madiha. For what you had on-hand, you did admirably.” Kimani said.

“Thank you, ma’am. May I make a call on the radio? We need to make preparations.”

“Ox is yours to command.” Kimani said. “And I will follow your orders as well.”

Madiha was confused. This was a sudden change in the plans.

“I’m only a Captain in the KVW, ma’am. I cannot command you. You are in charge of the 3rd KVW Motor Rifles – and I will defer to your command again once we evacuate. I am simply a member of your planning staff, who wishes to carry out a plan.”

“It would be disastrous, if I remain in command.” Kimani said. She was as stony and toneless now as Sergeant Agni – it was a common trait in KVW soldiers. Madiha was only a civilian liaison, and had been deemed incompatible with the crisis training that helped the KVW maintain their almost unnatural calm. This only made her all the more wary of her current position. Kimani stood off the back of the truck, and put both of her hands on Madiha’s shoulders, staring into her eyes. Madiha could see the thin, red lines circling around the inspector’s irises – the mark that she had received the full KVW training regime.

Kimani started to speak again, her fingers tracing Madiha’s broad shoulders. “Madiha, I told you before that there was a specific reason I wanted you with me, here, now. It was not so you could go to Bada Aso to try to repent, nor to write notes on a clipboard. I knew this fight was coming, and I told you as much. In truth, as a KVW inspector I am unfit to lead it. I do not balk at casualties, I do not preserve my own life – I do not feel pain and hardly feel exhaustion. I can feel your heart rushing even as I touch you now. That is why you have to lead them. Not just Ox, but the 3rd KVW Motor Rifles. It must be you.”

Madiha was overwhelmed. Things she would have rather not remembered resurfaced in her mind as she stared into the unfeeling eyes of Inspector Kimani. Madiha had never led full-scale battles, even as a military advisor. She had sat behind the lines, offering training, talking about gun ranges and precision shooting, formulating strategies, supporting operational planning. During the revolution she had been a courier between rebel groups; she had never even picked up a rifle after that. During the Akjer incident she was a spy-hunter, finding radios hidden in walls and breaking ciphers passed along in seedy bars, and then sending unarmed infiltrators to their deaths by firing squad.

She was a thinker, a planner, a good socialist, she thought.

And she was repentant and haunted by so many awful things.

“I am not a commander, Chinedu.” Madiha pleaded, using Kimani’s given name.

Kimani shook her head. “You could have fooled me. You have a plan, don’t you?”

In an instant, without thinking over it much, Madiha felt a burning in her head and her heart that compelled her. As if from another mind a dozen thoughts rushed to her. She began to explain without stopping and without thinking it over, “The situation: Dori Dobo is doomed to us, as is the border; it is impossible to organize a defense there. We must evacuate everything possible from the city. Move all food and equipment to Bada Aso. We will make our stand at Bada Aso, abandoning Dori Dobo to slow down Nocht.”

She realized what she had said, but she was helpless to take it back.

Kimani squeezed Madiha’s shoulders, an uncommonly gentle gesture from her superior officer. “I thought your peculiar strengths would be gone after what you suffered in the Revolution. But that was not the war you were born for after all.”

That terrible headache burned at all of her mind.

Madiha felt like her brains would split in two.

“You will reconcile all your confusion, eventually.” Kimani said gently. “If I understood what was in store for you in detail, Madiha, I would explain it. I want to help you. But I don’t know. For now, all I can tell you is that you are needed here. Make your call on the radio, Captain. For all of our sakes, you must carry out your plan.”

Madiha was unable to speak back to her or understand fully what she meant.

She felt that if she spoke, some other person would talk in her stead. Was she losing her mind? She felt Parinita hold her hand in support, and she felt Kimani let her go, and she stepped aside, ushering Madiha into the command truck.

Still struck dumb, Madiha opened the radio channel and called Dori Dobo’s command, mechanically repeating her orders to the confusion of everyone there. Kimani and Parinita butted in and supported her – she hoped that would be enough to get things going.

She switched to Ox’s communications and radioed all forces to fall back to Bada Aso.

Finally, she braced herself for the most frightening of her planned calls.

“Battlegroup Lion, this is Captain Nakar of the 3rd KVW Motor Rifles Division. Ox has come under attack by Nocht forces. What is your status? I repeat, what is your status, Lion? Has the Shaila dominance fallen under attack? Is the Nocht Federation attacking in Shaila?” There was silence on the line. Then there was screaming.

“Oh thank the ancestors!” A voice, cracking and shifting and almost too rough to understand. “We need your support, Captain. At this rate we’ll be encircled! We need everything you can spare, or we will lose Shaila’s borders for sure!”

Madiha trembled at the desperation inherent in the voice.

“We have nothing to spare. How long can Lion hold out?”

There was no response.

Madiha turned off the radio. She buried her face in her hands.

“It appears that I have been given command.” She said, her heart rushing. “We move to Bada Aso, and make our stand there. It is the only defensible area left.”

Parinita and Kimani nodded solemnly.

The evacuation proceeded quickly, and they were out on the Ayvartan roads long before the flames along the field had gone out. Flames that might soon engulf all of Adjar dominance, all of the adjoining Shaila dominance that Battlegroup Lion was struggling to protect, and perhaps all of Ayvarta. Lines of trucks rushed out of the border area, filled with soldiers like Adesh, Nnennia and Eshe, towing behind them the few guns they had left, watching the skies and the burning trail they had left behind.

The Solstice War had begun.

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