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Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio

It's a long way to Dromand Kaas,

It's a long way to go

It's a long way to Dromand Kaas,

To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye, Rormugandr,

Farewell, Kastenda Square!

It's a long long way to Dromand Kaas,

But my heart's right there

I've been trained not to keep journals, but I see men drawing. Surely they won't mind. I've been told the front is just over the next hill, some fifty miles or so. We'll be there by morning. I cannot keep myself from smiling, those filthy Republic dogs will finally get what's coming to them!

We couldn't land directly, since air superiority is heavily contested. Infantry carriers have to be used carefully. Same with walkers, and armored assault vehicles. Even though they're powerful, our commanders tell us that they wouldn't stand a chance under concentrated artillery bombardment. It's fascinating just how many trees are here. I thought this was a warzone?

Of course I jest.

I shouldn't be this happy, but I cannot wait. I get to kill my first Republic trooper tomorrow! Ma and pa will be so proud, and maybe I can tell Tisha how I feel when I get home.

I hope we'll be back by holiday. Last Empire Day was spent in quiet memorial for my brother. This year, it'll be in loud celebration - Jhen spilled Republic blood to avenge Ghander! I'll try and sleep now, we have a long march ahead of us. There are walkers and grav tanks in support, but they'll peel off and reinforce those incoming Infantry Armies that are sorely needed at the Front.

I'm told they'll be there at the next great push. That's when all the killing will start, I reckon.

But I digress, I need to sleep.

Radhast.

With its subterranean oceans of oil, owed to some great apocalypse millennia before, it soon became the object of both Sith and Republic desire. Federation forces - and Alliance - were too sparse in this part of the galaxy, and had other ventures to pursue. Thus, the stage was set for the Radhast Front - a colossal 1,600-mile series of trenches, barbed wire forests, artillery emplacements, and killing fields fully dividing a land mass below which sat the largest oil deposit on Radhast. Size estimates ranged from 55 billion barrels of oil to 65 billion, according to rudimentary geological scans. Control of that oil meant dominance on Radhast, and one more planet for either faction.

Supplies for both Imperial and Republic forces had to be airdropped in, meaning air superiority had to be maintained - but also that it changed hands constantly. Imperial artillery bombardments had continued to rock the Republic trenches for six weeks prior to the first shipment of fresh troops. This would open up the first day of fighting, with Imperial troops hungering and eager for a quick victory.

In their minds, the Republic lines were at their breaking point after constant artillery fire. The 886th, 415th, 961st, 773rd, 303rd, 787th, and 117th Infantry Armies were sent to finally break their resolve and force them off-planet.

These combined armies made up over 3 million soldiers, all intent on overtaking Republic positions and claiming Radhast for the Empire.

Commanders, too, were eager for a quick victory. One, in-particular, had been hunting for a commendation from his superior officers. Namely, Lord-Commander Garrod Heslok - overall commander-in-chief for the operation. He made it his personal mission to destroy the Republic forces present on Radhast down to the last man, no matter the cost.

If a million Republic soldiers died and he lost 999,999 Imperial soldiers, then it would be a victory in every sense of the word to him.

The Hell at Radhast, therefore, had no opportunity to be overruled at the time.

There are no trees here anymore. Even thirty miles into the march, there is a distinct change in atmosphere and color. We would hear the artillery crawl before. The winding roar of the turbolaser batteries, they were victory in our ears. Radhast had been a beautiful planet once, I can see.

Damn the Republic. Damn them all!

I would spend my life a million times over to see a Darth cut down the last Jedi!

Conditions waiting for the soldiers were bleak, to say the least. The infantry already present were remnants of the various artillery support regiments sent prior to those soldiers trained as actual infantrymen. They were quite formal about it all, however. The Infantry Armies were all greeted with open arms, some blockades had soup ready. It was like going on vacation, almost. Exotic planet, new friends, but that was when the briefing started.

Widespread commlink usage allowed the battleline to be informed simultaneously, but even such a technology was limited. Considering the general decay of technology at the time, as well, breakdowns across such a wide range of battle were bound to happen.

The battle waged at the fork of the River Larrast was named after that foreboding body of water. A season of rain had begun just days prior, leaving the trenches a wet and muddy affair. The water ditches carved beneath the wooden footboards overflowed easily, leaving many soldiers to contract "trench foot", requiring either substantial supply of rare antibiotics and bacta treatment or amputation. Poor management of biological waste also led to widespread infection, as did the resulting rats and flies nesting inside of uncollected corpses.

It was not the fault of the soldiers, but rather the complete lack of safety. Putting one's head over the trenchline for even a split second risked sniper fire. Scavenged wood or even the rare plasteel used to maintain waste removal were honestly better to help fortify gun nests or mortar positions. Material was rare, save for ammunition, bodies, and mud.

The imagined glories of the Infantry Armies sent here to die for oil would soon fade away to the grim reality of war. Constant, unrelenting, and ultimately empty.

Private Brego leaned against the dirt palisade. It was cold, wet. The material between him and the mud served only as a temporary escape. It was the mud he had seen many of his comrades die on already. Snipers were everywhere. The lighthearted mannerisms of his platoon had disappeared only a few days ago, but it felt like years. Jhen didn't sleep ever since he saw Alger's brains splattered across the backside of the trench.

Laserfire didn't seem so dangerous before, but the concussive blast tore straight through his plasteel armor and out the other side. His blood boiled for a split second, simmering there. There where his mouth used to be. Faint scatterings of teeth, a jawbone. Burned flesh and skin. Traces of fat. It clung to Jhen's nose, his throat. He could taste it, and vomited. Not because of the sensation of death invading his very senses.

Alger was looking right at him when he died, and he still was. The cracks in his helmet formed from the laser blast, that last lingering sense of consciousness left in Alger as he died, was focused on Jhen. Private Brego had knelt in place at that moment of uncertainty. He vomited and the water carried it around his ankles. Instinct put his helmet on. He didn't. Nothing in his body wanted to do anything but stay there and cry. But he got his rifle in that split second of anger and confusion, his entire body twitching. His blood curdling. His muscles and bones and marrow all locked in that one position.

Standing, behind the earthworks. Finger squeezing the trigger, firing back at something - anything. Across the field, across that empty grey and brown and black. Across the wire. Across the craters, where spent shells slept.

His comrades pulled him back down.

"Why are you wasting ammo?" they roared.

"They killed Alger!" he stammered back, but they pulled him back up.

It was 0453.

"Then kill them later. Keep on patrol, soldier. Zero Hour is in about two and a half."

He just nodded. Slowly, weakly, and kept his head down. He stayed there. Helmet off. Instinct had faded. Emotion took over again, and he looked at Alger. Poor Alger, young Alger. Like a brother, Alger. Staring back at him. Empty now, Alger. Why did you have to go? He had signed up for the 117th on the same day as Jhen. A farmhand from a neighboring village back on Syton. He knew his way around a rifle, but wanted to use a gatling one. Though it would be a 'hoot'. Gatling gunners were always on duty, always on call. He had one little sliver of uncovered post - so he could see through.

And then gone. Jhen picked up an arm, and hoisted the weight of a torso onto his shoulders.

Snivelling, choking. Alger was a good friend, a good man. He had a girl he was going to propose to back home. Beautiful, strawberry blonde hair. Eyes blue like the sky, like how the sky was supposed to be. Here it was always grey.

Always dead.

Jhen had to move Alger away, take him someplace. The artillery support had a place to bury the dead, that was good as any. But it was just mud, a hold full of mud and water.

Jhen just set Alger down on the ground.

"I'll set you right when the water's down, old boy. I'll... I'll do you right, for Jorey back home yeah?"

He had the decency to at least clean Alger's face a bit, what was left of it. Closed his eyes for the long sleep, then went back to the trenches.

Zero Hour was just three and a half away. All clocks were set for 0730 at the trenches of the Larrast.

Lord-Commander Heslok had gambled a great many things with his strategies on Radhast, but by far the most extensive risk was posed by his interest in tunneling under the Republic line.

Miles of tunnels were interwoven beneath the No Man's Land, and warfare in those closed quarters environments was not uncommon. Yet Heslok wanted something more. Something different than just outflanking the foe. He ordered a truly gargantuan amount of explosives to be placed along the Republic line at Larrast, the idea being that there would be no resistance left at the Larrast and the stalemate could be broken with a massive infantry charge.

Over 60,000 tons of high-yield laser-charges, directly imported from the adjoined naval deployment, were put inside several of these tunnels in complete secret to Republic forces. These explosives were meant to bombard planets, but the naval battle above Radhast necessitated those munitions being poured into enemy ships and not into enemy fortifications. But, Heslok's word was law and the bombs went off without a hitch - save for one, the nineteenth out of twenty, which failed to detonate until ten minutes into the infantry charge.

No Caption Provided

The largest of these explosions was said to heave dust so high into the atmosphere that it was visible to neighboring Imperial ships - dust, because all moisture had been instantly evaporated in the blast. It was roughly equivalent to a week's worth of concentrated bombardment all released in one, colossal burst. Electrical storms persisted for an hour afterwards, sending rolling torrents of thunder persisting throughout the battlefield. Most of all, however, it created rain.

Blankets of it, sheets of it, so much rain that the No Man's Land turned into a quagmire, nothing but mud and puddles and small lakes of grey and brown water. But the charge was ordered all the same.

At the behest of the whistles and the officers, 100,000 men fixed bayonets and surged forward into the gap. Private Jhen Brego, among them.

First came the whistles. Then the cheering, and the shouting. Jhen didn't move at first. He was third in line. Then the men beside him did, and instinct too over. That feeling - 'instinct'. More, he was caught in the tide of bodies. The wave of momentum. The moving, breathing ocean of plasteel uniforms.

He still didn't believe it - the explosion in front of him shook the water in his flesh, the marrow of his bones. Every part of his body, still recovering from the earth-shaking noise. Yet, men beside him were moving - nay, shouting! Officers, whistles in hand, making that ear-piercing sound, strength still left in their lungs. Strength still left in their legs, their arms, backs, and stomachs. This must have been the power of the Empire!

Was there a Darth nearby? Were they watching? Surely they were! This was a blessed battle, being looked upon by the Sith themselves! Jhen's lungs expelled their energy into a cacophonous noise, joining the ranks of the others. The mud swallowed his boots, but he took them back. Nothing on this planet was going to stop him from winning - WINNING!

By the Darths, they were going to WIN! A great victory, a great battle! What a tale to tell! What a life to live! To hear the sound of IMPERIAL artillery at their backs, to see the power of IMPERIAL munitions in front of them! To see the pain, to hear the howls of fear from the Republic lines... it was simply intoxicating! He felt a shock like no other, he was going to avenge Alger! Avenge his fiance! Avenge all those artillery support men who died before the Infantry Armies got here! Those damn snipers. That damn rain, concealing them, keeping them safe.

NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE, COWARDS! YOUR RAIN HAS GONE, AND WITH IT THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH!

Then! Then... what is happening?

Koric, why are you in the mud? Why have you fallen? Tripped, eh? In your fervor? Get up, come on, we're not even halfway there. The crater is still open, they're still in the dirt and coughing in the smoke. Come on Koric.

Koric.

Koric.

Jhen looked from that man he knew since training camp, and back against the horrid grey, that horrid empty death of the Republic line. The rain was falling again.

No Caption Provided

The death was falling.

He ducked into one of the many holes carved out by turbo-laser fire. Barbed wire clinging to his uniform. Officer Braldt was behind him, and whistled, waving for more infantry to come. More men. More bodies.

Jhen dragged himself out of the hole, stood once more, but the gatling lasers started to open fire on the other side.

Rifles.

Mortars.

The Republic hadn't been crushed, not even by the bombs. They were filling into the gap now, guns blazing. Laser bolts ripping into his comrades. Laser fire on both sides now, tearing and emptying. Then, rage. An overwhelming energy in his limbs, prying him out of the muck, racing forward, bayonet charged.

He surged behind one of his comrades, Hauk, but only for a second. A las-mortar round burst in front of both of them, sending Jhen into a spiraling black. He could feel himself moving, only barely, but life existed in his limbs yet. He reached for Hauk, lunging in his blindness for that friendly shoulder to grasp and pull down into safety. He felt like he had to spit, and so he did, but a taste emerged. Meat? Had he died... and gone to heaven for a taste of fresh, cooked meat?

Holiday at the farm, an ugrog on the fire, sizzling in its porcine fats and juices.

He spat, undercooked. Mother, what are you doing? You never... undercook...

Jhen's eyesight returned. Hauk was there.

Half of him stretched out of the crater, reeled in by entrails and by flecks of blood and bile. Jhen's helmet had been compromised by the blast. The frontal plates of his armor were no longer that ashen-white of the chosen camouflage, but splattered in a grounded meat color. Pink, and red, and white - the pale emptiness of what was once Hauk. In his mouth, perhaps pieces of kidney, perhaps more entrail. Liver. He spat again, screaming, shouting, howling, in both pain and panic.

Vomit, a horrendous retching came next. Two men, a medic Thadon and a fellow infantryman Lorandis, pulled him away. Away, from the promise line. Away, from the certain victory. He was kicking at the mud, reduced to childish yowling and the tantrums of a reduced intellect. At that moment, there was no logic, only raw emotion. He didn't express anything besides that oppressive, empty noise.

It was something being used across the No Man's Land. A form of communication only the deepest parts of their brains could understand. No language existed for it, could exist.

"Hurt. Help."

"Anyone."

"Please."

The charge had failed.

72,000 casualties were inflicted.

33,902 men would die in less than an hour on the first day of the Battle of the Larrast.

Over two million would follow in the months to come. Months of grueling, endless, miserable trench warfare.

The price of Radhast's oil had been chosen.

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#1 Posted by Darth_Miltiades (169 posts) - - Show Bio

Over 60,000 tons of high-yield laser-charges

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#2 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio

@darth_miltiades:

I know that's probably not how it works in SW canon, but that's what they did at the Battle of the Somme and it sounded cool lol

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#3 Posted by Jordyn_Hill (271 posts) - - Show Bio

@last_man_standing: Thats some damn good soldiering. Wasnt sure how I felt about the gif initially but I think I dig it. Troopers are dope.

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#4 Posted by Darth_Miltiades (169 posts) - - Show Bio

@last_man_standing: Star Wars was basically samurai with laser swords, WWII fighters in space and cowboys with laser pistols. It's a whole bunch of stuff Lucas thought was cool; taking inspiration from trench warfare the way you have here is classic Star Wars.

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#5 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio

@jordyn_hill:

It was more for the concept of what was happening. Just dirty, angry fighting.

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#6 Posted by Jordyn_Hill (271 posts) - - Show Bio

@last_man_standing: No I'm with it. Thats what it had me thinking. That and the gritty dirty av. Cool direction

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#7 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio
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#8 Posted by Aelia_Stormwind (275 posts) - - Show Bio

I went back and forth a few times between sympathy and "screw you, Imperial scum!"

But it was kinda like reading a different-flavored All Quiet on the Western Front. Mixed with a little The Things They Carried.

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#9 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio
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#10 Edited by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio

"Hate the clone. Fear the clone. The Republic has no real men fighting for it. No real men dying for it. Cut them down without mercy. Avenge your fallen comrades, and secure the future of a real Empire built on real flesh and bone."

Lord-Commander Lered Reiken, Andorak Campaign, 1389BBY

There are many military strategies throughout the broad scope of the Galaxy. Proud, noble infantry charges. Orbital bombardments. Heavily-armed shocktroopers. Concentrated armored deployments. Combined arms engagements.

But strategy is boiled away in the tempest of the trenches. Safety is eroded. Battle normally commences under the assumption that it will end soon. That all the fighting will be moved somewhere else. That the war will be won, and that the soldiers could leave for a moment of laxity. That is perhaps the greatest benefit of a War of Movement: how the soldiers' morale is not shot down much like the comrades around him.

All along the Heslok Line, that 1,600-mile Hell, death became little more than a certainty. It became inevitable. Men went there to suffer, men went there to die. But the clever propaganda painted Radhast in the light of a great victory, where every inch paid for in blood was a step closer to ultimate dominance on that world. Bright-eyed new recruits came there expecting glory, new stories to tell their families about how they crushed the heartless Republic.

Their fathers, and their grandfathers, often told them that the Empire was only as strong as it is because of two things: the wisdom of the Darths, and the blood of its soldiers. Otherwise, they wouldn't be any better than the cold logic-based anathema of the Federation or the Republic that didn't rely on blood and sacrifice, but rather the genetic code of a single man who was already long dead. At least, that is how the stories went.

Imperial youths were brought up in this environment, told they could succeed because of their sacrifice and determination. The strength of that will, combined with their numbers, could fight back any foe. Nothing could stop them. Nothing could destroy them.

The Heslok Line was a necessary crucible of death to anyone who did not deploy there. Strategy eroded. Safety eroded. The only place one could gather their thoughts was behind a thin strip of wood or plasteel, under several feet of raw earth and mud, the quaking of nearby turbo-laser artillery rounds pelting the ground they prayed wouldn't fail them. Constantly, for months on end. The monotonous, brain-rattling drone of artillery bombs. Men went mad, often flipped like a switch from sane soldiers to screaming inconsolable wrecks. Some would laugh. Some would cry. Some would just stare ahead, twitching, their minds completely gone from the miniature concussions striking them constantly from the nearby shells.

There was one sound they feared more than any other. It broke the monotony. It broke any semblance of that cruel normality, and it meant death. Day or night, when the whistles blowed, that meant a charge into No Man's Land, into the forests of barbed wire, into the artillery craters. It was the only possible break in the patterns. It was the only possible way to claim enemy territory, to overrun those trenches and silence the artillery behind them. Throughout the long months of the Radhast Front, the trenches ruled military deployment. The Heslok Line moved like a great coiling serpent, thrashing in its final moments of life, back and forth, at the cost of millions.

Along with that position-defining infantry charge came the defender's own version, when the trenches were emptied in one last attempt to stop the oncoming army. They would meet in No Man's Land.

They would meet at the stygian mercy of the the counter-advance.

"Huck!" "Dead," "Torgyr!" "Dead," "Pollux!" "Dead,"

Last names. Identifications. Real, honest-to-Emperor names. Jhen clenched his rifle, his only safety. The clones were probably listing off numbers. Cold, emotionless things. Were they friends in those trenches? Or did they act just like droids? They bled, but was it the blood of real men? They were engineered by machines. What did that make them?

"Brego!"

"H-Here sir,"

It was Braldt, one of the sergeants, one of the whistlers. He had been in the Army for a long time. A long scar claimed sight in his right eye and most of his lip-flesh. Teeth just jutted out in a half-smile. Jhen never knew what those looks meant before. Only now did he understand. Braldt was trying to calm him down, trying to let him in on the great secret of war. That this was unavoidable. That something like yesterday wasn't a fluke. It was going to keep happening.

Braldt might die next. Jhen, too. Thadon, Lorandis, Kriest. None of them were exempt.

"Idonis!" "Here sir," "Traflin!" "Dead," Braldt continued down the line.

Every name came with it a 'here' or an exclamation of their fates by those who witnessed it firsthand - or found their bodies afterwards through the periscope.

"Alright men, get some rest. I want Manrak and Idonis on patrol tonight. Brego, Braddis, and Keisterfeld, you're support. Lanner, Uraddis, Otro, and Munhild are on gatling guns,"

That meant Lorandis and Kriest were on patrol. Jhen was supposed to keep them awake if he found them getting tired, and check on the gunners. He wasn't getting any sleep tonight.

Kriest was the first one to put his hand on Jhen's shoulder.

"Hey, you're the one who went over the top with Koric right?" he gave a sad smile.

Jhen just nodded.

"You had the journal on the way down here? I want you to make right by Koric, you know? He was my brother,"

Jhen didn't say anything, but his expression hardened from the stoic uncertainty it had. His mouth half-opened. Kriest obviously didn't know what to do, his own face twisting in a great sadness. He put his arms around Jhen, sighing hoarsely.

"You do right by him, you hear? I want to see your writings on one of those war documentaries you know? The kind that makes people realize what we were doing here. And you mention Koric, and me if I die, yeah? That way, his girl and our friends back home can see how good of a man he was, fighting for their freedom."

Jhen closed the embrace, patting Kriest's back.

"I will, brother. I will."

Officer Braldt is a good man. He told us that yesterday would never happen again. That we will get the Republic back for it. Sometimes I wonder if they know what pain is. What loss is. Were they programmed without it? Did their unfeeling masters think that, without those qualities, they were somehow stronger?

I do not want to imagine serving masters such as that. Serving a nation that does not care for such things. It is horrifying, to be fighting things such as clones. Do they even care about losses? Do they even care about the dead left in those fields of wire and smoke?

Perhaps they do. But do not show it. That is a more unfamiliar and cruel fate than I can imagine, to be programmed in life in that way. To be void of emotion, when it should exist. To be told to die, and go into the hail of fire with unblinking determination. To leave the dead behind without a twitch of heart. Of soul. Because the Republic deemed it 'unnecessary'. Perhaps one day we will free them from this curse.

But until that day I will keep a record of Imperial lives they have taken, of names they have stricken from the galaxy, so that when that day comes - I can show them.

And they will weep as we did.

Koric Idonis, Hauk Lanfield, Alger Rammock, Jugo Pettis, Yorand Mann, Urander Haltock, Kagon Toramis, Rolfock Tieg, Emex Zandr, Traze Jaggex, Frankyl Dariux, Draex Desmon, Kaydn Zaid, Juliran Layne, Elden Arnav, Enderson Jareth, Alexin Canrad, Brindon Ashir, Claytin Maverock, Arihan Philp, Kai Grayham, Cayeden Luekas, Beckhan Kamern.

All soldiers of the 117th Infantry Army, 32nd Brigade, "Syton's Avenging Sons" Regiment.

They were all heroes, and patriots of their Empire. May the Darths be empowered by their blood spilled, and may the Galaxy finally know peace thanks to their sacrifice.

Jhen found Kriest leaning against the trench, standing quietly. He wasn't asleep but he had a certain glaze to his eyes.

"Hey," Jhen muttered. Kriest didn't respond by moving, rather a blunt sound from his diaphragm.

"You okay, Kriest?"

"Yeah. Just thinking,"

"About what?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Yeah, we're pals aren't we?"

"Yeah, I suppose," Kriest's lips curled into a smirk. "For whatever that's worth in this place,"

"Come on now, we're doing important work here,"

Kriest didn't say anything for a solid minute. Agonizing silence, almost like he was trying to burn a hole in the wooden palisade just by glaring into it.

"Why did the Republic make clones for its armies? Who decided that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Since they made so many clones to fight their battles, they don't know what it's like to lose a family. What it means to hurt like this," he hit his chest. "Have they forgotten? Where are the nobility and the aristocrats who send in their clones? Who send in unfeeling automatons to fight their battles? I want them to come here, and lose their brother, lose their father, lose their family!"

Jhen gave Kriest a look, and the younger Idonis brother - the only one left - shuddered through his encroaching tears.

"It's not the time for that, Kriest,"

"I know,"

"Come on, keep yourself moving. Patrol ends in - "

Jhen stopped. By the Darths, no. No no no no no no no no no NO.

Kriest heard it too. The turbo-lasers were firing more frequently. But that wasn't it. Men were moving out of their bunks, but that wasn't it. The sound was more ear-piercing. More shrill. Like a screeching beast above them, around them, inside of them.

The officers were out in the trenches. Their whistles were blaring. Braldt grabbed Kriest, and shoved him first in line. Jhen next. Men filed in around and behind them. Hundreds. Thousands maybe.

"The clones are comin' lads!" Officer Hemsley roared, Braldt's more theatric counterpart. His handlebar mustache was in stark contrast to his plasteel armor, but he wore it with pride. Called it his 'lucky charm'.

"They're sendin' all theirs, and we've gotta push 'em back! Guns aren't gonna stop 'em, wire's slowin' 'em down! We gotta hold this line boys! Hold it for your mothers, your fathers, your lovers, and children! FIX BAYONETS!"

Terror. Pure terror. Jhen rolled the blade out of his belt, and snapped it to his rifle. He was third in line last time. Now he was first. He was where Koric was. Where Hauk was. Kriest was praying next to him. Something about a Darth coming down and saving them. Jhen wanted to hold out a hand to him, but it was too late. Braldt was on the edge of the trenches, gatling guns roaring around him. Hemsley was on the other side, doing much the same. Waving for their men to follow.

That horrible sound. That shrill noise, drowning Jhen's senses. Making him move. Forcing him to hop over the top.

Over the top.

Over the top.

Over the top.

That was the hardest part, some said, was getting over the top. Having your legs obey the training in your brain and not the fear in your bones. But he did move. bayonet forward, lowered, rifle barrel blazing hot.

Before, in the first charge, he might have killed someone. He didn't know. He secretly didn't want to. But now, in the dead of night, the only illumination from the rifles and laser-bolts around him, he could see them. Their armor, that empty T-visor. Those plasteel uniforms marked with the emblem of the Republic. They were battered, and dirty. The bombs must have taken a toll on them. Must have shattered their resolve somehow. Maybe they would retreat if the Imperial troops got close enough.

Maybe this would all be over faster than anticipated. Maybe they would all go home, before Jhen could actually hit someone. He kept firing close to them.

Leave, please, by the Darths, justleave.

But they kept moving. He saw some of them die from laser-fire around him. Bodies crumpling, useless now. Imperial bodies followed as returning bolts soared. He shouldered his rifle. Aimed, and fired into the chest of a clone.

He swallowed, his throat closing, but he had to remember that they were just shells of men. Told to fight. They killed so many of his friends. They were killing more. Stop them, Jhen, stop them. Bludgeon them! Beat them! Drive them back!

He could feel the vomit welling up inside of his stomach, but he didn't stop. He couldn't stop. He hit the clone's shoulder, making him stumble. Bayonet distance. Melee distance. He thrust, pushing the blade forward, and pushed vertically. Guts. Innards. Real men. Blood. Flesh. Bursting skin, pain. Hauk. Was that you? He smelled cooking ugrog again. Burning. Undercooked. Fresh meat. The clone made a sound like a dying porcine beast, the last vestiges of a mortal being.

Jhen had killed. He felt like releasing that built-up bile, like crumpling up and rotting in one of these holes, but he had to keep fighting. Men around him were dying. Hundreds, thousands, suffering in that incomprehensible brawl.

No Caption Provided

That deep dark mud, those pools of water, Jhen slipped and fumbled. A clone was on top of him, pushing the butt of his rifle into his throat. Jhen's hand clasped a stone, and he used it to smash open the helmet, pierce an eye, crack the skull, something. He didn't know in that moment. He didn't keep track, it was all a blur. Did he drown someone? He had lost his breath. He didn't breathe. He wasn't breathing. Bubbles gone. The mud now red, arms not flailing anymore. A pain to his temple. Sharp, hurt, Koric where are you? Did you stumble again? Alger! Alger I'll avenge you!

He found his rifle. Oh thank the Emperor, he found his rifle. Coddle, protect it, keep it safe, it'll keep you safe. That's what the training-man said. That's what Braldt said. Braldt - Braldt! Where are you? I need your help, please, just don't whistle at me again, you know I hate that.

A blast, yes a blast! Hit the target. Point-blank stomach shot, blood. Did targets bleed? Wood doesn't bleed. Plasteel doesn't bleed. But mud bleeds. Flesh. I want to go home. I'm done being an army man today, mommy, please, I just want to go home. Kriest and Koric are good friends. I like going to their house. I like playing with their army toys. Can I have one? Just one, please?

More targets. More bottles on the fence. Alger's house? No. My house. Brother? I think so. Ghander - yes. Ghander! I love you Ghander, you're my big brother. I don't want you to leave.

Please don't leave.

Throw the corpse into the barbed wire. More clones, but more Imperials. What's that? A great burst of sunlight, was this all just a bad dream? Wait... it's gone now. A stream - a long tongue of flame. People are on fire. They're screaming so they're not clones. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Keep hitting. Keep punching. Wait, rifle, where is rifle, bayonet, safety. Keep safe. Only thing that keeps me safe. Trenches are not safe. Bunker not safe. Armor not safe.

Please, rifle, where are you?

In the mud, I think, in the water, sticking out. Bayonet is wet. Keep making it wet. That's what Braldt would say. Keep making it red. Clones can't win. Won't win. Galaxy has to be safe. Be made safe by my rifle.

Yes...

Wait, they're going now.

Safe? Yes... calm.

Jhen folded into the ground, taking his helmet off. Was it safe? He just wanted to vomit. Just keep retching until he died. Several clones were around him. His armor was compromised in many places. Blood. His blood. His flesh, and bone underneath.

He didn't look at the men in front of him. The bodies. They were dead, weren't they? They weren't moving. Weren't breathing. He inhaled, and exhaled slowly.

Then, a thought. Where was Kriest? Koric... dead, Hauk, dead, Alger, dead. Kriest was alive. He had to keep Kriest safe. The night was deep and dark, he had to get Kriest back to the trench. Back to safety. Back home after the war. Holiday was in a few months. Family was important, and had to be reunited.

He scoured the nearby holes and ditches. Kriest was right next to him when the whistles came out. When the Imperials overran the clones with their counter-advance. With their flamethrowers, and rifles. With their flesh and blood, triumphing over manufactured men.

"Kriest!" he shouted hoarsely. Throat was dry and closing, burning.

"Kriest!"

A bomb burst next to him, knocking him down into the muck. Dirt and slime crept into his veins through the wounds, through the broken armor. He didn't care. Where was Kriest? Where was anyone? The rain was coming down again.

The rain, always that grey haze. It always meant misery. Nothing grew here! Why rain? Why do you come here?

But Jhen did find Kriest. He was breathing heavily, eyes empty, his stomach open and with both hands clasped over the wound. A clone was next to him, bayonet reddened with blood, but he was very much dead. Imperial laser-bolts saw to that. Point-blank. Just like Braldt taught him. Good show, Kriest.

"Kriest!"

He didn't respond. He was shivering. Abdominal cavity compromised. Slit open as if by a thick saw, such was a bayonet wound. Jhen was already wounded himself. Chunks missing, right gauntlet filling with blood from a laser-burn scorching down to the marrow. But he leaned down into the mud.

He wrapped his stronger arm around Kriest's waist and hips, his weaker arm balancing the legs. With a pull, with all the strength left in his body, he tore Kriest out of the crater of death, one of the thousands - millions. He would not have a grave on this planet. Not here, not like this. He huffed and groaned, his left boot filling with blood from a similar wound to his arm. His joints ached, beaten and broken by the cruel advance of a handful of clones he managed to stop in a daze. He didn't remember what he did. All he remembered was the terror he felt before, and the terror he felt after.

The terror as he realized he couldn't carry Kriest. The terror of watching the seizures. The unresponsive glaze in his eyes.

He did what he could.

"MEDIC!"

He put pressure on Kriest's stomach, more than what the boy could do himself. The reaction was worse, but he had to stay the bleeding. Seizures, flailing. His brain was getting cold, losing blood and oxygen. His heart trying desperately to keep flow. Thumping as loud as the artillery around them.

"MEDIC!"

"MEDIC!"

"MEDIC!"

The night was deep and dark. The rain kept falling.

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#11 Posted by Darth_Miltiades (169 posts) - - Show Bio

@darth_miltiades:

The 117th only needs its next assignment, my lord
The 117th only needs its next assignment, my lord
The resistance of Oristicon is unexpectedly strong. Reinforcements may be.. necessary.
The resistance of Oristicon is unexpectedly strong. Reinforcements may be.. necessary.

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#12 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio
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#13 Edited by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio

The shepherd will tend his sheep

The valley will bloom again

And our boys will go to sleep

In their own little rooms again

There'll be bluebirds over

The white cliffs of Tohver

Tomorrow

Just you wait and see

"Soldiers of the Empire!" Sergeant Hemsley barked.

It was 0500. Briefing hour. Two months, and three million men, had gotten the 117th to this point. Three-million, seven-hundred-sixty-two-thousand, four-hundred-twelve, split between seven Infantry Armies. The Radhast Front stretched for 1,600 miles in either direction, dividing crucial access to a massive ocean of oil that would fuel Imperial efforts in the system for decades to come.

Imperial efforts.

There were rumors of what was happening throughout the line, happy ones this time. The orbital fighting had come to an end. The battleships Unbreakable and Glacier were pinning the last remaining Republic star cruisers against a wall, forcing them out of the system. What this meant was aerial superiority - and unmitigated armored support. Only infantry carriers could make it past the blockades exchanging dominance of the atmosphere almost on a daily basis. Even if the odd armored lander managed to get through, the vehicular cargo within would be focused down in a matter of seconds.

But not now. Imperial walkers were scheduled to land within the next few hours. Then, one final push into Republic-held territory.

Jhen couldn't help from smiling. Lorandis was next to him, smoking, and laughing.

Hemsley was beside himself, puffing out his chest like he used to two months ago.

"As you may have heard, the battle is ending soon!" he proclaimed. "But that doesn't meant the Republic won't try something,"

A raucous chorus of half-sarcastic 'boo' and 'hiss' noises, and Hemsley raised out a hand palm-down.

"They're desperate. Same as we were before the sky was conquered. They'll try anything they can do to overrun this position, and make it so that the walkers have no support moving forward. They mean to slaughter us to the last, do you understand?"

Everyone agreed.

"Reports indicate that the clones had one last shipment of troops, fresh ones, before their main cruisers departed. They're not leaving without a massacre. They chose to stay behind to try and take this line, this oil, this lifeblood of the Empire!"

"Damn them!" Lorandis spat. Jhen just crossed his arms.

"Without this oil, this system goes to the Republic! Without this system, all your brothers and sisters died for was a chance for us to run away! Are we going to let their sacrifice be in vain? I say to you we make the clones bleed one last time, and we bleed them white!"

Fear had been replaced with hope, and with fury. Emboldened, the line erupted into cheers and whistling, clapping and hollering. These men and women had been through Hell together. They were ready to walk out together.

"The Jedi General Erastus Wissenburg will be joining the clones in the assault. Concentrate fire, and he shouldn't be a problem - but don't let him get close,"

Hemsley popped off his plasteel armor at the elbow, and removed a cybernetic arm from the protective sheath. It was his pride, something everyone on the line saw at one time or another, but it was relevant now more than ever.

"Cuts through plasteel like it's not even there, through flesh and bone even faster. Just has to wave it at you, and you're either dead or deformed. So be careful, men. Restrain him if you must, point-blank thermal detonators are very effective,"

Lorandis flicked his cigarette down into the mud.

"But, that's only a last resort. Like I said, concentrate fire, and he'll go down same as any other Jedi," Hemsley folded the plasteel gauntlet back over his arm, and tested the fingers. "So, ladies and gentlemen, now we wait."

Time is the greatest enemy in these trenches. Time spent not fighting is boredom, merely waiting to have that burst of adrenaline. That spark of death. Time spent fighting is quick, and dangerous. I have fought in the holes and ditches beyond the top, among the forests of barbed wire, in the dense clouds of smoke. If only to recover friends who did not return, I have fought. This will be over soon, and I cannot be happier.

Our next deployment, some say, is a fortress world. There are rumors up and down the line that a Darth has requested the reinforcements for that campaign to be chosen from the veterans of this one.

I refuse to die.

I will live to see a Sith in the flesh, and kill on their command.

I will live, because my comrades died so that I could.

An hour. Sixty minutes. Thirty-six-hundred seconds.

A simple passage of time, for most. In the trenches it might as well be an eternity.

Lorandis was on his third smoke, and Jhen stopped him.

"That's your last one,"

"Yeah? If it's my last one, it's my last one,"

"Don't be like that,"

"I'll get more on the ship, I promise,"

"Yeah yeah,"

They were both on gatling gunner duty, meaning they were huge targets - especially for thermal detonators. They wouldn't have time to leave the emplacement before the explosion. At least it would be quick, but Jhen had better things to do than just die here.

"How tall is that Jedi guy anyway?" Lorandis exhaled through his nose.

"Huh?"

"How tall, you know. I haven't seen him at all in the trenches when we raided,"

"Probably been up and down the line so much we haven't got a glimpse until today,"

"Bastard is probably the only real person there, huh?"

"Yeah,"

"Damn clones, just one person copied over and over again. Knight What's-his-name must be having a hard time keeping track,"

Jhen smirked.

"How many times you think he's had to start morning status over and over again? Because he just keeps calling the wrong numbers,"

"Shut up," Jhen chuckled.

"Ah you're no fun," Lorandis ribbed him with an elbow.

"What color do you think his sword is?"

"The saber? I dunno. Heard the Darths have red ones. Jedi probably have like... blue or gold or something. Something pompous, to make them feel like they're all that you know?"

"Purple?"

"Yeah probably,"

"I would want a purple one,"

"You, with a sword like that? You'd cut off your own head shaving,"

"I wouldn't be that stupid, I'd still use a razor,"

"Not talking about that head, dummy,"

Jhen punched Lorandis in the shoulder, hard.

"Ow, that hurt, jackass!"

"No it didn't,"

"Oi!" someone slapped the side of the emplacement casing. It was Strayfer, one of the heavy troopers. He was from some backwater planet not even Jhen heard of, and talked with a thick accent, but he was just a giant teddy bear. Sometimes, he held his head for no reason. Said it was 'da rattlin' again'.

"You's guys bedda not be fightin',"

"Hey Strayfe, what color you think the Jedi's sword is?" Lorandis shoved Jhen back.

"I like orange color,"

"Orange huh? Hey Jhen, he likes orange,"

"Alright, tell you what, we're gonna be a team right?" Jhen stood slightly, hooking Strayfer by the neck and Lorandis by the shoulders as he leaned out of the gun turret and into the trench slightly. "We're gonna collect swords from Jedi we kill, yeah?"

"You're joking," Lorandis snorted.

"We's gonna get me a orange one?"

"Yeah, and me a purple,"

"You know what, you're both stupid," Lorandis took a long puff of his smoker, coughing it out after. "But I want one of those gold ones, so I can sell it and die rich like one of the Darths,"

"You're gonna die from old age before you find a gold one,"

"Don't care, you made this little agreement and I laid out my terms,"

"Gold'n? Soundin' fancy, Lor,"

"Yeah yeah, whatever,"

Strayfer put up a hand to wave at someone coming down the line. He usually did that with everyone, considering his personality, and Lorandis leaned over to see who it was. Jhen just had to look up. It was Falister, one of the runners, who looked out of breath.

"Look alive boys, periscopes spotted clones moving into place on the other side just a second ago,"

Lorandis checked his watch. Jhen lost his about a month ago and Strayfer couldn't read time.

"Ehh, knowing them they're gonna come for a visit in about two minutes. They like their fivers," he grunted, sucking down the rest of his cigarette and manning the turret.

"Alright Strayfe, you go to your post and tell your officer, okay?"

The big man saluted and started his heavy jog over towards the other side of the line. Barnabus already knew, but Strayfer liked talking to his officers and no one really minded him telling them old information as long as he had something to do.

"Bless the man." Falister muttered as he started running to the next gatling nest.

"Don't trip and break something again, Fally!" Jhen jeered after him, earning a birdie in response.

"One and a half," Lorandis chimed.

Jhen took out ammo cartridges, lining them up compulsively in a row. Left to right, two rows. All that could reasonably fit. Heavy damn things, like speeder batteries but worse. He had to shovel them with both hands into the feeding compartment. There was a pattern to these things. Five second bursts, three second cooling period. Could do that forty times, good for eighty thousand rounds. Interlocking arcs of fire, random dispersal, meant optimal infantry suppression. Charges were practically suicide against these kind of guns, but they were necessary for pressuring the line. That's precisely what was happening here.

Pressure.

Massive pressure.

"Half until whistles," Lorandis clicked his tongue.

Jhen focused on the line in front of him, not too close as to entice snipers with the shine of his optical visor, not too far away to be limited to a thin line.

"Five, four, three, two,"

He could hear them across the way, those whistles, and the resounding roars coming after. It still shook him. They were ready to die here, until reinforcements came. However long that was. The Heslok Line had to hold. The 117th had to hold. The walkers were practically already there.

Jhen had gotten used to watching the darting flecks of grayed-out white plasteel, ducking under the rain and oncoming lanes of fire. What he caught a glimpse of that last day on the Radhast Front, however, changed his perspective of the war. There was a floating line of green, staring right at him. He could see it carve through the ghostly pale of mist and water. Then, it was gone.

"Jedi!"

Lorandis chewed through his firing patterns. That was Fleckler's voice. Where? The line? Already? We didn't even get a chance to...

His ears shuddered at the sound, sizzling meat. He turned towards it, leaning out. Sure enough, there he was. Jedi Knight Erastus Wissenburg, General of the Republic's Clone Army here on Radhast. He was just under six feet tall, which seemed strange at first. Jhen expected some sort of nonhuman monster. Huge, hairy, or even a Dakka maybe. But a human? Just a human. He took out his rifle, intent on shooting him down just like the clones.

Just a human. Okay, should be simple. He's not even looking at m-

Heat, in his shoulder, what? Did he lose an arm like Hemsley? No, still feeling in the hand. Barely. A nerve? Bastard... cut a nerve? Not with his sword, but with Jhen's own laser-bolt! Parried on the spot!

Erastus was moving that way. For Lorandis. He was fast, damn fast! Like Jhen wasn't even there, like he was dead. Thought he was, maybe? Or maybe he was counting on being too fast. Thought Jhen was too worn down after so much fighting. Like Hell!

Jhen went to tackle the Knight, catching him by surprised - or rather, by a possibility he considered but risked anyway. Luckily, Jhen managed to tuck himself under the Jedi's arm, blocking what would have been a clean cut straight through his waistline. Lorandis caught what was happening, but couldn't leave his gun. The clones would overrun them, he knew that, but his reloader was gone. So he started firing it shorter bursts, hopefully sparing ammo until something favorable happened.

Erastus flipped his saber, meaning to impale Jhen, but grimaced in a sharp pain as something tore into his flank. A knife, concealed, piercing his guts. He dropped his lightsaber out of the sudden throbbing agony being plunged deeper into his abdomen - again and again. He lost a decent amount of blood, flecking the bottom of the trench, before he pushed Jhen off. Not with his hands, but with that strange magic that the troopers only barely heard of in stories. Jhen found himself completely conscious, not like being hit by an artillery barrage, rather just flying. About ten feet in the air, until he came down at an awkward angle at the crest of the trench. Straight into his ribs, cracking two on impact and bruising the rest on that side. His guts popped and crackled with fluid being forced from one side to another in such a manner. His spine bent in a way it was never meant to, and he fell to the ground in a heap.

Having to remove his helmet to spit out mouthfuls of blood, he watched as other troopers did much the same as him, trying to close the distance to the Knight. Some were cut down. Some distracted the Jedi long enough for others to get a bayonet in. He used one arm as a shield, almost, deflecting several troopers at a time with that same magic blast. He pulled their bladed weapons away, turning them against their wielders. He obviously didn't do this kind of fighting regularly. Or, at the very least, he was far more desperate this time. He had no support, not yet. He was trying to buy his troopers time to advance. Why? They were replaceable, weren't they? Just coming off an assembly line. He didn't have to sacrifice himself like this.

But he was.

By the time his body slumped to the ground, the clones closed the distance. Jhen knew they did when their thermal detonators rolled into the line. One right in his face. Using every ounce of strength in his body, he grabbed it and threw it back. He didn't care about killing anyone right now. The lightsaber was his objective now. Then Lorandis, and they could fight again.

"Jhen, get your ass up here!" speak of the Devil.

"O-One sec,"

"You alive?"

"Broken ribs... everything hurts,"

"We'll get you a bacta enema, now move!"

He roared with all he had left, climbing into the nest and feeding the gun a new clip.

"Finally!" Lorandis cackled with shrapnel in his eye.

Even in the isolation of the gun emplacement, with the concentrated rattling of the firing mechanisms, Jhen could hear the fighters overhead. He could feel the ground shaking from the walkers. The clones didn't retreat, they had nowhere left to go on this now-Imperial world. Their gambit had failed.

Jhen leaned on the sandbags, smoking and losing himself in the sky. The distinct shape of the Glacier stared back at him. Lorandis hopped back into their nest, spry despite the bandages on his head. Strayfer wasn't far behind him, carrying Falister on his shoulder - minus a leg.

"Hey check it out, Jhen, Fally is gonna have one of those supersonic robo-legs,"

"Surgery's tonight on board the Glacier," Falister smirked.

"Gonna be faster, huh?" Strayfe teased.

"Hell yeah," Jhen replied with a smirk.

"Bacta does wonders don't it? Bet it feels like you never had a bone in your lung,"

"Nah, still feels like that,"

"Don't be such a baby, at least you can see straight," Lorandis punched his shoulder.

"Gentlemen!" it was Hemsley. He looked just as clean as the first day they saw him, like he always did, despite being in the thickest fighting. "You're all still alive!"

"Yay! Sarge!" Strayfer went to hug Hemsley, and the gentlemanly officer reciprocated - but only barely, given the heavy trooper's strength. Falister was hanging on for dear life.

"Y-Yes yes, Private Drokan, I'm still alive too, please let go,"

The gentle giant did as he was told and stood at attention to make up for 'unprofessional behavior'.

"Good news! We're being shipped along with the Glacier to rendezvous with the Imperator over Oristicon. There will be a garrison left behind to ensure the Republic doesn't return, but the 117th has been chosen for further action!"

The group cheered, clapping and hollering.

"Private Brego, see if you can get an audience with Darth Militiades (@darth_miltiades) over the matter of that lightsaber,"

"The Darth?" he asked, stunned. His hand shot to his belt, hoping the sword hadn't disappeared. He hadn't remembered picking it up, but he must have, since it was there.

"It's a gift, from the 117th to the Sith Empire proper,"

"Yes sir!" he stood and saluted, despite the barely-healed tear in his organs.

"And with that, you lot are dismissed. Be sure to board the ship by 0500 tomorrow morning. I'll see you on Oristicon!"

"Yes sir!"

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#14 Posted by Sargon_Stryfe (61 posts) - - Show Bio

Awesome Job with this! (`∇´ゞ

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#15 Posted by Aelia_Stormwind (275 posts) - - Show Bio
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#16 Posted by Last_Man_Standing (743 posts) - - Show Bio