Perpetual War Arc Two: Chapter Eight – The Price of Battle

Every battle in this ongoing war has a price that must be paid. Those who take part whether from the rear forming strategies or in the trenches themselves, they will be forced to pay. What that price is will remain unknown until the moment comes and they can only hope it is not in the form of death.

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The battles ebb and flow with the passage of time. I once thought the war would end, but it is clear to me now that it is the foundation of Coronam, and just like the oceans that bring both life and death, now, too, do the battles across the land. Glodoran is just another perfect example of this. Eleven long years it has gone on and there is no end in sight, the death toll it takes on each nation that participates continues to grow in staggering numbers. At the end of it all though, when the battle finally quiets down to complete silence, life will return. You can see it just fifty years after the Battle of Dasherranah, the land now prospers. Animals come freely and plants grow bright with rich nourishment from the land. I suspect with another fifty years that the land will entice the return of civilization due to the rich resources now abundant. And of course, with the return of civilization there will come influences of nations with their own opinions, then… a second battle of Dasherranah. It is but the natural order of our world. With this fact though it raises the question of whether this War too will grow silent. It may… but, as it stands now? I doubt anyone alive today will see the end.

-Halbern Isador, A Philosophical Take on the History of the World

The chaos of the trench fighting still roared all around Bryce. The release of gunfire and crashing artillery shells joined the screams of the dying. The acidic smell of gunpowder grew thick in the air to mix with the smells of the trench that always lingered.

Amid the tight space of the outer trench line of Derdainia, Bryce stood his senses numb to it all. A hand on his shoulder shook him away as he looked to Liarie who gave a reassuring squeeze.

“I saved him, damn it…” Bryce’s look of shock turned to anger as he squeezed his working fist tightly.

“This isn’t the time or place. We need to move as soon as I stop your bleeding.” Liarie unhooked his dust flask from his belt and loosened the top before forcing it into his working hand. “You need to drink.”

“Hurry, Liarie, the Imperials are getting closer!” Zel shouted before firing off a few rounds aimed at a distant target.

“Quiet, Zel!” Liarie replied.

“Why couldn’t you save—?” Bryce stopped himself from finishing the sentence not daring to look at her face. “I’m sorry, I know you tried.” He brought the flask to his lips, the iron water kept chill from the air gave his senses renewed focus now that his sense of taste was gone from the dense gunsmoke clogging the air. He gulped down what was left within the flask. The sorrow that clenched his heart was pushed away for now as the horrors of what was happening quickly came back to him.

He looked to Herra to see the woman give a thin smile.

“At least he won’t have to listen to Zel’s bad jokes anymore, right?” Herra said with a forced laugh.

Bryce looked back to Chapman and rubbed at his forehead of sweat.

“Sorry, Lead.”

“No, you’re fine, Herra. Cut his emblem. We can’t take his body with us, but we can at least do that.”

“Yes, Lead.” Herra replied and unsheathed a knife before bending down to Chapman’s cold body.

“How are we doing?” Zel called out again, his rifle clicking at the sound of an empty magazine.

“I’m just about finished!” Liarie shouted again. Her fingertips lit up with a gentle glow over the open wound in Bryce’s shoulder.

Warmth surged through his left shoulder, the numb feeling still lingering but not as strong. Feelings returned to his left hand; Bryce tried to move each finger, finding it painful.

“It’s the best I can do with our current situation,” Liarie said.

“I understand, where’s the rest of the company? Is Dunkir fine?” he asked, placing the canteen back onto his belt and unholstering his pistol to reload it. The motion of emptying the barrel caused him to grunt in pain that shook his left arm. The empty casings fell out as he loaded in two fresh slugs.

“Yes, he’s fine and with Hendrick who led the rest to the location of our retreat. I told him to not wait for us in crossing back over.”

Bryce nodded in approval. “Good… knowing Hendrick he’ll stick around for us, best we hurry.” He turned to see Murn blocking the entrance with his large shield, Zel peering over. “Let’s go you two!”

“Aye, Lead!” Zel replied and gave Murn a pat on the shoulder. “Let’s go big guy.”

“I’ll take the lead, Bryce. Conserve your energy, I don’t want you wasting any on spells.” Liarie turned to Herra without waiting for a reply. “Keep your rifle ready, you’re with me.”

“Yes, Lady Majes,” Herra replied.

“Zel, Murn, both of you are bringing up the rear, I don’t want the Imperials catching us off guard.” Liarie began to head down the trench, tail flicking as ears turned and angled themselves at every odd sound that drew too close to their position. “Let’s move swiftly!”

Bryce followed after Liarie and Herra, his eyes constantly drifting to the top of the trench to his right where an Imperial could appear at any moment. The return to moving through the brown sludge littered with remains of death gave him a sickening feeling. The pain in his shoulder kept gnawing at him with each beat of his heart, only worsening from the pace he was forced to move. The roar of gunfire from the crater they had been in for what seemed like forever never seemed to leave, but instead followed them. The battle itself turned to the dead lands to his left where Union soldiers scurried in panicked retreat. The whistles of artillery overhead crashing into the dead lands only furthered the chaos coming at every angle towards his mind.

All of it was overshadowed in Bryce’s mind by the pale features of Chapman’s corpse. A growing dread in his heart at Dunkir’s fate or Hendricks further ahead on their path or even those around him and what could happen at any moment made his heart only race further. The feeling of invincibility that he had felt striking down the Imperials gone all too quickly.

The incline of the trail and the curve of it drew his attention as he was forced to watch his footing. The loosening of dirt and mud from the fighting now created a slow-moving sludge in places along the path. Wooden boards used for even footing slid beneath his step. Bryce was only saved from falling face-first by Zel, who still seemed to have infinite energy even after the day’s events.

As they moved towards the remaining defensive bastion of Union, friendly soldiers who were injured or too afraid to move looked on with pleading eyes for help. The threat of Imperials overrunning them at any moment forced the group to leave the poor souls behind. Bryce’s heart only sinking further at how helpless they appeared with wide eyes afraid of death. On several occasions cries of pain from behind alerted them to Imperial soldiers making their way to clear the outer trench line, killing any Union along the way.

Turning another corner, Bryce recognized the teal banner with wolf’s paw marking the area as Lead Helfin’s position and main hold on the left flank for the offensive. He entered the space to see the short-barreled cannon at the center of the space now a twisted mangled mess of remains. Around the cannon were various crates of supplies and wreckage where the remaining Union soldiers made a desperate defense against the Imperials who were flooding in on the other side through two intersecting trench lines. Union soldiers too afraid to stand and fight anymore were scurrying up the trench to head back to their side, many getting shot in the back in their attempt to escape.

Liarie guided the group to a pile of remains closes to them.

“Do you see Hendrick?” Zel called out to Liarie who was already looking over the remaining Union soldiers.

“Yes, he’s on the far side closes to the hole in the wall leading out of the trenches.” She looked back to the rest of them. “Bryce, can you muster a fireball?”

“I believe so, what are you thinking?” He asked with raised brow.

“I can’t maintain three spells nor any for long.” She rubbed her hands together trying to rid them of a shake. “I can maintain a thin barrier while shifting the remaining crates of ammunition for the cannon to the Imperial side. If you throw a strong enough fire spell, you can set them off.”

He blinked a few times, noticing the pale look on Liarie’s face for the first time. We all look horribly exhausted, don’t we? Even the magical fey can only take so much.

“Bryce?”

“Yes, sorry.” He shook his arms and rubbed at his eyes with the least muddy part of his wrist. “I can do that.”

Liarie looked to the other three. “Herra, Zel I want you two focusing on any Imperial who tries shooting at us and Murn you’ll provide your physical barrier as further protection. We have to do this fast or else we’ll get shot up like our Lead has gotten the privilege of experiencing.”

“See, Herra, at least one of our superiors can crack a joke in a shitty place.” Zel chuckled.

“A fine one, Lady Majes.” Herra laughed and checked her rifle’s chamber to confirm its readiness. “Let’s send some more Imperials to their false Father.”

“On a count of three then.” Liarie said eying each of them slowly before closing her eyes, each hand lighting up at the fingertips slightly. “Let us strike true in the name of Yenvark themselves.”

“One.”

Bryce holstered the pistol and closed his eyes, feeding energy into the palm of his right hand. Yen, grace me with your beautiful flames so I may immolate those that wish to harm you and all of the Union.

“Two.”

Heat welled up in his hand, the sound of a growing fire reaching his ears over the gunfire.

“Three!”

In one smooth motion, Bryce stood and followed the motions of Liarie’s hands to spot the pair of crates of ammunition being forced across the ground toward the Imperial side. The gunshots of Herra and Zel to either side of him with Murn standing at the front gave him comfort to focus everything he had on the crates. The flame grew and a moment later he flung it through the air in one smooth motion of his arm.

The fire flew through the air to land squarely on one crate positioned at the front of the cover the Imperials were using. It exploded in an instant, causing the cover to scatter and act as shrapnel to cut apart any man or woman behind it. The second crate caught aflame by the explosion went off a few seconds later to add to the damage on the Imperial side. Smoke filled the area and the gunfire from either side grew silent. Union soldiers, caught off guard by the sudden change of tone, looked about in confusion before settling on the group at the edge of the open space.

Liarie turned to the soldiers and gave a thin smile. “Now’s the time… to depart…” Liarie mumbled before stumbling back into the raised arm of Murn.

“Liarie! Are you alright?” Zel called out.

Bryce leaned forward, using a metal rod for support as he glanced over to Liarie with tired eyes. “You extended out too far, Liarie…” he said weakly.

“We have to keep moving…” Liarie muttered, trying to desperately stand back up, but instead only managing to twist about in Murn’s arm. Sweat covered her face, the pale look to it gaining an expression of red as a heat flash hit her causing her to hit a delirious state.

“Are you crazy? We need you and the Lead to rest!” Zel exclaimed.

“No, she’s right, we have to move.” Herra looked to Bryce, “Right, Lead? Else we all die here.”

“That’s correct.” Bryce forced himself to his feet. “Murn, can you carry her?”

“Yes.” Murn replied in his gruff voice and cradled her small form in his single arm while holding the shield still in the other.

“By the holy ones, did you call upon all of their magic?” Hendrick asked, running over to the group.

“We called enough. Where’s the rest of the company?” Bryce asked.

Hendrick looked out to the dead lands beyond, cigarette in mouth. “I sent them all with Lead Helfin when he began his retreat. The Union you see left are the poor bastards who’ve been trying to find their way out of this mess.” He took a deep drag of the cigarette and looked to the smoke still drifting over the silent corner to the area. “I honestly was starting to regret staying back for you all, thinking you may have crossed someplace else.”

“That’s nice, Hendrick,” Zel replied and patted Bryce’s shoulder. “However, I think you can tell us all about your hardships after we get to safety.”

Bryce unholstered his pistol, the weight of it seemed ever increasing as the hour dragged on. “Hendrick, take the lead across. Zel, Herra, I want you both to gather up the remaining soldiers; we’re moving as soon as I stumble on over to the hole.

“Yes, Lead.” They both said in unison and wasted no time in running about the area shouting to the various Union soldiers who hadn’t taken the silence of the Imperials as the cue to make a run to safety. Being given words of action, the various soldiers gathered up their remaining wits and began to make a move to the wall to climb it.

The silent corner of the Imperials began to come to life as new soldiers began to climb through with more starting to appear from the entrances to either side that came from the outer trench line. Multiple Union soldiers were caught off guard as others began to fire in retaliation. The Imperials dwindling in at first were caught one by one, but more kept filtering in at a faster rate than they could be taken care of.

Bryce reached the hole and waited for Hendrick to climb up it before he began his own ascent over the dirt and wooden planks that once made the wall, now turned into an easy access point to the land above due to an artillery shell. The muscles in his legs ached as he took each step, the pain in his knees making him groan. He came to the top and found himself at the doorstep of the thin strip of land now seemingly wide as can be, known as dead man’s land.

Craters filled the long space that stretched in either direction as far as the eye could see. What littered that space was a mess of discarded weapons and supplies, sections of barbed wire, and bodies in various states of decay. Past that the Union line was lit with activity most evident in the plume of smoke that released along the rear of it, the whistle of shells reaching into the sky before descending.

Out of instinct Bryce sought after any shells that would come too close but saw none. A moment later the shock wave knocked him along with everyone else nearby into the mud as the shells detonated not far behind. Maybe one was too close.

The only one that stood unaffected was Murn, who marched onward.

Getting onto his hands and knees, Bryce crawled forward and found Hendrick offering a hand from within a wide ditch. Taking it, Bryce slid into the ditch and sunk in for protection to catch his breath.

“Seems our side is launching counter artillery.”

“I can see that, Hendrick,” Bryce grumbled and rubbed at his sore arm, fresh blood coating it as a light headiness hit him. “We have to keep moving before they end up killing us instead of the Imperials.”

“Piss, poor aim, I swear that’s all they got, those damn gunners,” Zel grumbled sliding into the ditch. “Lead, by how exhausted you look, one might think I’m the esper with all the energy I got left.”

“Focus on moving forward, Zel, instead of talking,” Bryce grumbled in reply and glanced over the ridge to see Herra scurrying out of the trenches along with more Union soldiers.

“That’s the last of them!” Herra she called out before joining them in the ditch.

Several other Union soldiers slid into the trench after Herra, their eyes turning to Bryce at the sight of the insignia on his coat.

Feeling the pressure of stares on him to take action, Bryce rose up in a half crouch. “Hendrick, do you see any easy passage to the other side?”

Hendrick having crawled along the ditch to the other side peered over the edge. “Yes, a wide enough path through a section of barbed wire. It isn’t far from here.” He looked back to the assembled group, “We can jump from crater to crater heading towards it.”

Bryce nodded and looked to the different pairs of eyes staring at him. “You three with Herra will fire at any Imperial who poke their head up along the trenches while Zel and you four cross to the next trench with Hendrick. Then Zel’s group will provide covering fire for Herra’s. Simple and easy, any questions?”

“Where are you going?” Herra asked.

“With you.” Bryce glanced back at Hendrick, “I want you leading Murn ahead of the rest, I don’t want Liarie getting hurt by a stray bullet.” He holstered the pistol and pulled his sub-machine gun off from his back and checked its readiness. “We do this quick and efficiently, let Yen guide our hands and Vark give us the strength to perform!” He exclaimed and rose to face the Imperial side, Herra and the three unknown soldiers to Bryce rose up and began to fire in unison towards the Imperial trench line. “Get moving, Zel!” Bryce called back.

“Aye, Lead! See you in a moment!” Zel replied.

Several Imperial helmets along the trench line they had come from minutes prior quickly poked back down at the sudden burst of fire from Bryce and Herra’s group. Some of the helmets popping off as a burst of blood dotted the area for a brief second. Returning fire kicked up the dirt and mud along with one of the young men beside Herra collapsing back with a bullet hole in his forehead.

Lowering back down, Bryce pulled the magazine free and loaded in a fresh one. Last one. He grimaced at the circumstances and looked up to see Zel wave to him to move. “Let’s move!”

The other two Union soldiers along with Herra followed his lead in climbing out of the ditch and begin a quick, low-crouched run through the short space between them and Zel’s group. Bullets whistled by, threatening to claim another life at any moment.

Bryce half ran, half stumbled towards the crater, his mind loosely grasping at the concept of a barrier around his body. He slid into the crater with a heavy breath of relief. “Go, Zel…” he muttered and stood up to take Zel’s place in firing upon the Imperial side.

“Not much further, Lead,” Herra replied standing beside him, her rifle kicking back with recoil at the release of another bullet. “I just saw another crater before the final sprint past the barbed wire.”

A roar echoed from the Union side as another volley of artillery sounded off.

Bryce looked to the sky searching for any stray shells that would land too close. A low hanging cloud overhead that had drifted into the air was torn apart by shells running through its airy shape. Explosions sounded off not long after. He watched the dirt and debris fly high into the air where each shell landed. The Imperials firing upon them became silent. More shells landed, drawing closer to Bryce’s position.

He spotted a pair of shells drawing too close and raised his hands up out of instinct. Vark! He called for the God and dropped his weapon to instead raise his hands to the sky. His left hand ached and he felt the numbness in his shoulder eat away at his senses. With teeth gritting, he focused on the barrier and closed his eyes. A heavy impact hit him both mentally and physically as he felt blackness take hold.

“Lead!”

He fumbled in that darkness, trying to pry his eyes open at the call of his title.

“Bryce, get back up!”

He recognized the voice as Herra’s calling his name. Bryce felt a grip on his right arm trying to pull him back up. Why am I here of all places? Fighting this pointless battle?

“There you are, get up, come on.” Herra began to laugh. “This is no place to die for someone like you.”

Bryce groaned as he blinked his eyes awake to see Herra leaning over him. Another pair of hands were pressing bandages onto his left side. Looking down he saw bandages wrapped around his left arm and more being placed around a jagged metal shard in his left shoulder. Things just keep getting worse it seems. He gave a thin smile and reached for his pistol, unholstering it. “Let’s keep moving.”

“Is he serious? We’re better to wait here until the fighting calms and sneak across.” A youthful voice said.

Bryce looked up at the pair of hands to see the boy, one of the three that had stuck with him and Herra. Eyes shallow and devoid of emotion.

“We stay and we risk dying by our own artillery. Lead barely kept us alive in that last barrage,” Herra pointed out and forced Bryce up into more of a sitting position. “Come on, Lead, we have to move again before our side fires another volley.”

Bryce looked over to his sub-machine gun. “Do you mind, Herra?”

“Sure, I got it, just focus on getting up and out of here,” Herra replied and took the weapon over her shoulder, tightening the strap. “Samuel, help me get him to his feet.”

“Okay,” The youth replied and took hold of Bryce under the shoulder, taking care not to apply to much pressure while Herra pulled from the other side.

He groaned in pain, forcing back any urges to curse out. Standing on his own feet again, Bryce looked around for the third unnamed soldier that was with them.

“She died,” Herra said and pointed out a piece of an arm at the edge of the crater. “Was just too far out of reach of your barrier.”

Bryce simply nodded, unable to bring himself to say anymore and trudged forward to the craters edge. “Are the Imperials firing at us anymore?”

“In this area, they’re rather dormant after our comrades shelled the bloody crap out of us,” Herra replied and helped Bryce climb up.

Being forced to the next crater with a quick step, Bryce stifled another cry of pain as he slid into the next and last crater. There he saw Zel holding the hand of one of the other soldiers with the third trying to press bandages into them with tears evident on their faces.

“Are you okay, Bryce?” Herra asked.

“Yes, help Zel.”

With a nod, Herra drew Samuel’s attention, and the pair went to the other side of the crater to help Zel.

Sitting in the mud, Bryce looked over his bloody wounds, the piece of metal dirtied and rusty. He glanced around the crater; its features were similar to the chaos of everything else. Bodies, fresh, rotting, and merely bones, were lying about. The gear of the bodies was intermixed with the mud, wood, metal, and other materials that had been brought to the trenches for defensive or offensive measures.

He laid the pistol in his lap and placed a hand over the wound in his shoulder. Closing his eyes, he focused on the spot, trying desperately to gain the composure to feel the wound and stop any serious bleeding. Tingles of warmth pierced the numb feeling gripping his whole left arm. His racing heartbeat loudly stopping him from gaining any sort of peace to maintain a healing spell. Opening his eyes again, Bryce tried moving his left hand and could feel his fingers move. “Slow, but it’s better than nothing,” Bryce muttered while picking the pistol back up, the handle a comfort to his senses now numbed to the cacophony all around that only lessened but never went away. “It’s time to keep moving,” he muttered and stood up slowly to move over to the others. “If she can’t walk then we have to leave.”

The boy with tears in his eyes looked up, his face turning to sobbing anger. “No, we can’t leave her! We’re to be together!”

“We can’t stop her bleeding; she’s going to die,” Herra said, sitting off to the side with dismay in her voice.

“There’s a chance, surely you can do something?” Samuel asked.

Bryce looked to each face before stopping on Zel.

“Your call, Lead,” he replied and gave a gentle squeeze to the girl’s hand.

He looked down at the girl, red hair stained with blood from the gash in her head. The wound to her stomach, still gushing blood, had stained the bandages pressed over it. The look in her eyes was utter fear, but for a tinge of hope at the sight of Bryce standing over her.

The Union strives to keep all its followers healthy and protected in its grace. Yen, please use me as a guide to heal this innocent follower of yours. He lowered, half falling, to his knees. Herra helped support him as he knelt close to the girl. She is too young to die, instead heal her so she may continue to serve you with renewed vigor. With pistol holstered, Bryce reached his right hand out to the girl’s stomach and closed his eyes. Resting his hand upon the stomach he felt the beat of her heart and the racing of blood to the wound, each beat of the heart pushing more precious blood out. His mind sought after the broken veins and open organs within, feeding his warmth to each to help seal them shut. Upon succeeding in stopping the loss of blood, the beat of the girl’s heart began to pick up as magic fed into it promoting the flow of blood through the now closed veins. Pulling himself back Bryce turned his attention to the outer layer of skin, his mind imagining the wound closed to show smooth skin once more. Movement beneath his hand lifted his fear as he opened his eyes a moment later to see the girl’s face exhausted but not nearly as pale.

She tried moving her lips to thank him, exhaustion hitting her as her head rolled back.

“What happened!?” the boy cried out.

“She needs a moment to recover, sit back and give her space,” Zel snapped. “Herra, take the Lead’s canteen and help him drink some water.”

“Of course.”

His vision blurred as he fought the darkness again. The voices of his comrades around him keeping his attention. A cold trickle of water touched his lips and he began to drink without hesitation. The cold touch of water not tainted by iron passing through him gave him a slight boost of comfort further helping him stay awake. Blinking his eyes, he could tell he was laying back, his head resting in Herra’s lap. Bryce tried to sit up but quickly fell back into that haze of barely staying awake. Every muscle ached and the thought of movement seemed insane to him. Voices drifted in and out as he tried grasping upon them. More water touched his lips and he drank, but his exhaustion was hitting him too strong, just staying awake was proving difficult enough.

He opened his eyes again at hands lifting his body and the sharp pain from his left arm being moved. The voice of Hendrick filled his ear along with the heavy movements of Murn. His feet slid along the mud, his mind jolting at the tip of his boot banging into something heavy. Not long after he found himself being lowered again.

He tried prying his eyes open again through the sheer force of will and succeeded. He saw Zel by his side, a grin on the young man’s lips.

“Come on, Lead, stay with us. Hendrick and I just dragged your ass past the barbed wires. Not much further and we’ll be in our trenches finally.”

Bryce looked over to see Hendrick wiping sweat from his face. “What about the Imperial artillery?” he muttered the question.

“We’re fine, just as you predicted Lead, the main focus is on the central line where most of our forces retreated,” Hendrick said and came closer to Bryce’s side. “Let’s keep going before they change their minds and start beating the crap out of us here.

“That’s at least something,” Bryce said and offered up his arm for Hendrick to grab hold of. Hoisted up to his feet, Bryce stumbled with him and Zel by his side along the rest of the way towards the Union trenches. Other soldiers ahead were jumping into the trench, the path they had taken laid out before the three men. Step by step they drew closer to the end, the exhaustion of the day’s events weighing heavier upon Bryce’s shoulders.

Ears poking above the ridge of the trench catching Bryce’s eyes. A thin smile crept along his lips as he watched Liarie climb out of the protection of the trench and rush forward, a limp in her step.

“Bryce!” she exclaimed, coming closer to see his bloodied and exhausted look.

“What are you doing up so soon, Lady Majes?” Hendrick asked.

“I’ve recovered enough to help a bit more. Now keep going, I want to make sure every straggler makes it across before the Imperial artillery turns to this position.” Her voice was stern and expression emotionless as she tried to hide the pain and exhaustion in her features. She glanced down to Bryce, a crease in her lips as she returned the smile before continuing past them.

“Let’s not waste any more time, we’re just about there,” Hendrick said.

“What a horrible day,” Zel said with a groan as they began to move forward again.

“It’s not going to get better. The rest of the night they’ll be bombing us.”

“Why don’t we have a magical shield here anyways like the Imperials had?” Zel asked.

“From what I understand, it was destroyed a few months back and repairs take time. If there’s anything positive of this attack is now, they’re missing theirs.”

“Just means both sides are going to bombard each other endlessly,” Zel groaned.

Staring at the passing mud below him, Bryce listened to the pair talk, too exhausted to add his own words. He felt relief at the sight of the trench and more as he was carried down into the protection of the walls. He caught sight of the defenders in various states of exhaustion. Many looked up at him as he passed before returning to their own injuries. The soldiers who had remained behind had more energy about them that was quickly turning to sorrow as the onset of a night filled with heavy shelling began to weigh on their minds.

The passages through the trenches all became a blur to Bryce, and before long he found himself in a dimly lit bunker, the table he had been playing cards at the night before close by. He recognized some faces of his company that caught sight of him as he passed through, carried by the two men who led him deeper into the bunker toward an open bed. There he was laid out as gently as possible.

“Zel, go get fresh bandages and find Vonna, we need her medical kit. I’ll stay with the Lead and keep an eye on him.”

“Yes, sir,” Zel said and quickly moved away.

Hendrick watched the young man go before looking back to Bryce, “Another mission done, eh?” he asked with a half-hearted chuckle and began to rummage through his pack. “Let me get you something to eat before you pass out.”

“Another task forced upon us…” Bryce groaned and closed his eyes trying to find peace from the cold numbness gripping his left side. The face of Chapman’s pale face came to him. He opened his eyes again trying to escape the sight. “We need to get back to our real goals, Hendrick. Another mission like this will get…” He paused, his hand moving to the handkerchief, forgotten in a pocket. Pulling the mud-stained fabric free he brought it up to get a better look of it. “It’ll get more of us killed.” He groaned and gave the handkerchief a squeeze before resting his hand on his chest.

“We’ll make it through, Lead. We have in the past and we will in the future. Just bear with this pain for a little longer,” Hendrick replied.

“Just a bit longer…” He closed his eyes again. Just a bit longer… How much though until the Union is changed for the better? A bit seems so far away right now. His grip on the handkerchief grew tighter as he tried to hold back a tear.

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Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

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