The Bull and the Hyena, Part 20

Dust drifted down from the ceiling over Izik Hoshic’s head as another explosion shook the command building. He and his staff would have to evacuate soon, but as long as he felt like he had some control over his army’s evacuation from Grendemar, he was going to stay. Communication with individual units had been sporadic at best, but what little information Hoshic did have was not good. As far as he could tell, at least two-thirds of his forces had been eradicated, and the rest were not having much luck getting out of the city.

Perhaps evacuating had been a mistake, but Hoshic couldn’t think of any alternative that would have been better. There were no structures in Grendemar designed to stand up to an orbital bombardment, aside from the barracks he was in, and that wasn’t nearly big enough to hold 200,000 troops. And why would there be any such structures? Most of Grendemar had been built in the long years of peace following the Nether War, and the architects who built the city hadn’t even conceived of preparing it for war.

Despite the lack of good alternatives, the evacuation was proving disastrous. Hoshic’s forces had initially attempted to flee using the dropships that had brought them to the surface, but they quickly found those were easily tracked and destroyed by the Midigalans. The same thing went for any land vehicles that they managed to commandeer. The only troops who had successfully made it out of the city so far had done so on foot, so Hoshic had sent out the order to all units to make sure they were avoiding vehicles.

So far, the bombing was limited to inside the Grendemar city limits, but Hoshic was worried that the radius of the target area might be expanded in order to make sure that as many Imperial troops as possible were eliminated. Therefore, he had ordered his troops to get as far into the wilderness as possible. His hope was that the more widely scattered his forces were, the harder it would be for the Midigalans to completely finish them off.

“General, report coming in from Jarzek Company,” said one of his aides. “They’ve successfully made it out of the city and into the Graladon Woods, but they’ve suffered 60 percent casualties.”

“Thank you, Major,” Hoshic replied, wiping his face with a handkerchief. More good news mixed with bad. He knew that he was lucky to have any of his troops escape this slaughter, but he was so tired of death. He hadn’t joined the military to watch comrades and subordinates die. He’d joined up to serve the Empire that he loved, to give back to society and protect the people he loved from whatever threats might be lurking in the shadows. He hadn’t expected to have to fight a war someday. It had been so long since the Nether War that no one remembered what war was like or how to fight one.

He was jolted out of his thoughts by a deafening explosion that shook the building and caused chairs and lamps to fall over. Hoshic himself was knocked off his feet and onto his back.

“Report!” he bellowed as he scrambled to his feet.

“Sir, a bomb just hit the building directly!” yelled a lieutenant frantically.

“We should be fine, though, right?” Hoshic asked. “This building is designed to withstand an orbital bombardment!”

“In theory, sir, but that’s never been tested!” the lieutenant yelled back. Hoshic’s eyes widened as he pondered the implications of that statement. As he pondered, the building shuddered violently again. Everyone in the room was thrown to the floor again, and large cracks appeared in the walls.

“Sir, I think they’re targeting us purposefully!” yelled a major. Hoshic stared at her in horror for a second, and then quickly came to a decision.

“Evacuate!” he yelled as loud as he could. “Get out of here! We can’t trust this place to stay standing!” His words caused a flurry of activity, as all of the officers on his staff rushed to get out of the barracks before the Midigalans destroyed it. Hoshic himself stood up slowly, eyes surveying the room carefully to make sure that everyone was moving as quickly and orderly as possible.

He was determined to be the last person to leave the building. He started stalking through the halls, making sure that the order to evacuate had spread to everyone, and snapping at anyone who was moving too slowly for his liking. Two more blasts hit the building as he roamed, causing more cracks to appear in the walls and more injuries to his personnel.

Then, there was a long pause. For half an hour, nothing more happened. No bombs hit the barracks, and reports were starting to come in that indicated that perhaps the bombing was over. Hoshic was starting to feel hopeful that the worst was over, and that maybe he and the rest of his troops would survive after all.

Hoshic followed the last of his soldiers out of the building and onto the street outside. The scene that greeted him was like a vision from a nightmare. Buildings were broken and toppled, rubble and bodies and blood were strewn everywhere. For a moment, all Hoshic could do was stop and stare, but then he remembered that he wasn’t safe yet. He turned and followed his troops down the street.

It took him a moment to realize that something was wrong. He ran past several soldiers before he became aware that none of them were moving, and all of them were looking up at the sky. He too, stopped, and looked up, and what he saw there made his blood run cold.

It was as if the One himself had opened up the heavens and was preparing to rain down vengeance against the Imperial Army. The sky was glowing with red-orange energy. The Midigalan ships were charging up their main guns for one last blast, to wipe Grendemar from the face of the galaxy. All Hoshic had time to do was fall to his knees and offer up a quick prayer for his soul, and the souls of his troops, before the Midigalan fleet unleashed its fury on the invaders.

To be continued…

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