“Bloody hell!” I swerved as the plasma bolts exploded around me, sending snow and dirt and rocks hailing around me. I could hear the sounds as the rocks beat against my Frame, as they clanged off the metal exterior. “Monika, send Darren’s unit around to flank them, we can’t hold this position much longer!” God damn, Orno, if only you had listened to me.
“We’re being beaten back, sir.” Monika’s Frame moved into my view, her weapons blazed through the blizzard, slicing through the snow as she desperately tried to strike at our invisible foes. I could smell the dampness of the air, and I saw the heavy pelting of ice that fell upon us like blades from above. I heard the cracks as they beat against my Frame, as the ice shattered against my machine of death.
Yet snow fell also, in flakes like peaceful raindrops flo18ating towards the ground.
Beauty amidst all the horror.
I looked down to my radar, seeing the enemy’s formation and position. Yet, even so, it was like firing into an abyss. Nothing was there. A void. If I looked up, the sight that greeted me was both beautiful and horrendous. The blood-soaked snow, swiftly covered in the blizzard. The cool winter sky, splashed with red and the fires of destroyed metal.
I sighed. I leaned back in my chair and switched my Frame over to automatic command. I tapped my fingers against the side, they hammered out the sound of a bitter drum. I need to think.
I checked the radar once more and looked over the positions of my soldiers. I saw Casper’s unit as it advanced headlong into an enemy formation. His blue dot glowed vibrantly for a second and then it faded. Extinguished.
My hand drifted to the empty space on my hip. I grimaced when I realised I did not have my blade with me. It felt unnatural, as if I had lost a part of myself, as if something that made me who I was had disappeared. I spared a glance to my wrist; a small blue light emitted from a mark, signalling that the teleporter was active.
I shivered and a tremble ran through my body. The thought of abandoning those I cared for made me sick. Those who do terrible things for good reasons, are they just as terrible as those who do terrible things for terrible reasons?
The thought coiled within my head for a few moments. My eyes darted to the radar showing my foes; they were encircling us now, our flanking manoeuvre had been cut off. The one chance we had at victory here had been crushed before my eyes.
“There has to be some hope. Some way that their lives can be spared.” I whispered this plea to myself, and I hoped against everything in my mind that said there is none. Against every logical reason. I held hope.
“Myron,” I commed him and my friend’s face appeared before my own. His brow was strained in concentration as he focused on his enemies, and on talking with myself amidst it all. The battle raged on. I saw rockets scream past my Frame, kicking snow up uselessly as they failed to meet their targets. All around me my soldiers fired, aimlessly, blindly. Hopelessly.
“Eleusis!” My friend’s voice was thick. Regret? Anger? A loss of faith in my abilities?
I looked at his face, my memory finding all the times we had shared a drink. My mind racing to the time I had met this strange and loyal man. How I had been dumped straight off Supreme Commander Ignatios’s ship and shoved in to the line of recruits that were marched towards the barracks. I had been starved and dehydrated. Afraid and alone. Alone except for her. She joined me too, and yet I couldn’t protect her from Ignatios’ hate. Hatred of us Nobles. Myron had seen our poor shape and had given us food and water, he allowed us to stay within his barracks. He did not know us; he did not care who we were or where we had been. He had helped us because it was his nature, to defend the weak and to aid those who needed it.
A good man. Far better than myself, I knew. Far better than the man I would be forced to become, I feared.
“I’m sorry.” I said my goodbye, my apology. I saw his eyes widen as it dawned on him. I, the arrogant prick who claimed I could never lose, saw no way out. There was nothing I could do. I killed the communication, and sat back against the seat.
I watched as my old nationmen dashed themselves like waves upon rocks against my defensive formation. They strove forward through the blizzard, coming for us like a starved pack of wolves. They came at us again and again, persistent until death. Each one of theirs taking ten of mine before they were silenced. In this war of attrition and lives, I was losing.
“The Imperium, ever grand, ever victorious.” I allowed myself a smile, one that dripped with sorrow at the thought of my family. After today, I cannot return to you. After what I will do, there will be nothing that can save my soul.
I could feel the heat that pierced my skin, the sweat that rolled down my brow and wet my cheeks. My head thumped like a hammer, it felt as if my skull was breaking. I clutched my head between my hands and tried to steady my mind as the pain shot through my skull. It had no mercy as it assailed my nerves, as the pain swept to the rest of my body, paralysing me in agony. The memories came back vividly. The smoke and Flames. The ash that burned that stuck to my feet as I fled through the woods. The burned clothes that barely covered me and the smell of soot that had assaulted my nostrils. Even now, as the memories returned, the same stench returned to me.
My heart broke, shattered by the knowledge that I would betray all I loved for my own personal greed. For power. But power with a purpose.
I snapped my head up, the pain making everything distorted. I can still win. I can save them. If I am to become a monster, then my one last deed may as well be one of an angel.
I sat back into my seat, tapping my control panel, and regained control of my Frame. I glanced at my wrist, at the blue tinge, and a sense of dread swept through me once more. I grimaced, still unable to accept the burden that I had placed upon myself. The mantle that I had accepted from Randera’s hand many months ago. My mission, in Randera’s eyes, is to defeat those I once would have died for. My mission to myself is to make sure that those deaths are not in vain.
“I will create something better, Randera. Something that you cannot even comprehend.” My voice sounded hollow even to my own ears as I charged up the mountain, passing by all of my soldiers. The steep incline made my Frame groan as it sliced through snow.
“Myron,” I commed him. My friend’s eyes locked with my own; a pit of sorrow opened between us. “We can win. Follow my exact commands.” I listed my orders to him, telling him precisely what he had to do.
When I gave him his final order, he snorted and shook his head. But, then his gaze met mine and his mirth fell away. “Oh. You’re serious.” I nodded, and my friend tried to hide the fear beneath his gaze. Yet it did not escape my notice. My hands curled together, as they used to when I prayed to the Emperor each morning, thanking him for my life and for the boons granted to me and mine because of our status s Nobles.
Your Majesty, if you ever truly listened to these prayers. Forgive me.
“My friend,” I whispered, unable to meet his gaze. “Should either one of us be dead by the end of this day. You have become my family, brother. Know that, all the good you have done will not have been in vain.” I ended the communication as my friend began to reply. I will die, but I will not allow you to believe me dead without having your value known to you.
Ahead of me, snow was blasted into the air as rockets fired past, explosions burst ahead of me as the rockets hit their mark. The fire was focused on the flanks of the Imperials, forcing the soldiers to close together as our rain of rockets began. The formation changed as Myron gave out my orders to the captains and my troops. It swept from a half-moon to a three-pronged attack to a recurved bow formation.
The Imperium’s soldiers faltered and failed, their advance stopping as my soldiers came together in one final struggle to achieve victory. I needed one last thing, something to turn the tide entirely. The reserves. The thought cut through my haze, and I immediately opened communications with the Chain.
“Get me Orno!” I snapped to the woman who appeared on my screen. She turned, abruptly transferring me to Orno’s communication panel. His ugly face greeted me with a stern look.
“Vixiua,” he drawled, his voice like grating sandpaper. “What do you need?”
“The reserves,” I pleaded, “Mora through to Serllo. The heavy weaponry units. I need them.” I gestured to the battle that raged around me. “We have them in a deadlock, but I just need an edge, and then we can begin to push them back.” I allowed the desperation to enter my voice, I allowed him to see my fear that we could lose. Please, if you have ever had a single bone of remorse in you, grant me this.
“No.” His voice cut like a knife. Yet, his face did not hold the malice that I had expected from his tone. He looked startlingly sombre. “I can’t do that, Commandant. Those forces are needed for the left wing. I’m having them transferred as we speak to try and hold the last line of defence.” The man’s gaze darted to the ground, then back to me.
General Mallius Orno saluted his greatest Commandant. “I’m sorry, Vixiua. No help can come for you.” The communication ended. I felt a chill sweep over me. I let out a strangled gurgle of despair and reclined in my seat, hunching down as if looking away would make it less real.
I have no choice now. There is only one last option available to me. I looked to the teleporter. Three taps and it‘s activated. I shook my head.
My Frame screeched as the ground erupted beneath me and my Frame was thrown down the hill. The sirens roared within the cockpit as my Frame automatically tried to steady itself, grapples firing out, ploughing through snow to lock onto the rock beneath.
My head bashed against the side of the cockpit, and blood obscured my vision as my gaze turned red. I felt the warmth wash over my forehead, and for a moment darkness took me and then a bright light.
I watched as the Imperium’s soldiers came from the flanks, having overrun my last line of defense. I watched, helpless, as my soldiers were obliterated, as the men and women I had commanded for nearly a year were blasted away. The Imperium’s men were merciless, killing all that they found through the curtain of white and the howling blizzard.
I opened a communication with Monika. My gaze was met with dark eyes that spoke volumes. She shook her head, anticipating my order. “There is nothing my unit can do. We have nearly depleted our resources of missiles and we can’t break through. There is no retreat now.” She shook her head. I could see the shiver through her face. “I’m sorry, Eleusis.”
“Never be.” I shook my head. “This failure is mine to bear.” I looked away, ending the communication with my lieutenant. I opened Myron’s channel.
“Execute my Final Order, Myron. I failed.” My friend objected, stating that there had to be another way, that I could find some way to victory. I could not. If there was any way for me to salvage this, without this act that will likely end in your death, I would. But, there is nothing more I can do.
“See it done.” I steeled my voice. I would not allow him to object; the guilt for this act must be mine alone.
“Very well, Commandant Vixiua.” Lament filled my friend’s voice as he accepted my command, as his unit turned. I had kept Myron’s missiles in reserve for this reason alone. So that I had one final blow against the Imperium’s soldiers.
From where I was, now far below the mountain, it was a beautiful spectacle. I saw the streaks of fire as the missiles fired out and the trail of flashing sparks as they were unleashed. I saw the missiles as they wreaked havoc; tore through the cliffs at the top of the mountain, shredded through the stone and the clay and dirt and melted the ice with the heat of the explosion and weakening it completely.
I did not hear the mountain roar as the cliffs began to tumble. I saw the sheets of ice as they collapsed, I saw the snow as it burst forth in a great wave. I looked to my wrist. I tapped. One. The snow continued to belch forth, the sound coming to my ears now as the snow screeched, its battle cry louder than the shrieks of metal and the blasts of flames and the cries of the dying.
I saw the snow collide with my rear-guard, Frames uplifted and swept along as it moved like a charging current. The avalanche devoured all in its path; my soldiers, infantrymen desperately battling against the Frames of the Imperium, were torn apart by the mass of snow. I watched as men were squashed beneath its wrath, their blood a small speck upon the rolling thunder of the Gods.
My eyes fell upon my radar with a heaviness that could have shattered a world. I watched the blue dots be swept away, vanishing into nothing. I couldn’t even imagine the terror that shot through my soldiers as they died, wrenched apart by the strength of nature.
A section of the avalanche broke off, as if it had seen me and wanted to feast upon my soul as it had theirs. I looked toward the rolling death. The snow that foamed like the sea, the boulders that split apart beneath its anger and in my ears the sound of a howling wolf, ready to strike at its prey.