Commander Longstride’s voice was steady, but his wide eyes betrayed his anxiety.
“Yes, Shas’O, we intercepted their landing ships not five decs following the Imperial assault.” Kor’vre Shi’fa shifted uneasily as he continued. “We managed to down one of the transports, but at great cost to our airforce; many fine pilots were killed in action.”
There was a murmur of consternation from the general staff gathered in the Command Centre. The airforce was invaluable to winning the war on Melberg, yet they continued to suffer losses that were not easily replaced.
“The Blood Martyrs…” repeated Longstride, staring down blankly at the conference table. His voice was wistful, quiet. To the aides and commanders it almost seemed as if he was unconcerned at the losses of the Air Caste. In his mind, though, the memories of previous encounters with these Gue’la weighed heavily.
“They cannot hope to prevail,” declared Commander Quicksword, brimming with the confidence that only a junior commander could possess. None round the table had ever experienced the full fury of the Gue’la finest. Except Longstride. He knew all too well.
“Our forces will overwhelm them before they can secure a foothold,” continued Quicksword. “We have amassed more than enough of the Fire Caste to sweep them aside...”
“No.” Longstride’s interruption caused an awed hush. Quicksword looked to his commander, clearly frustrated, but gave a nod in deference to the will of his superior officer.
“These are unlike the Gue’la you have already faced. They fight with a resolve and fervour unlike that of any other foe.” The Commander’s words resonated across the room. An air of disquiet had taken hold of the High Command. They could see that their commander was deeply troubled. None seemed sure what to suggest.
Commander Whitefire broke the silence. “What is your decision, Shas’O? How shall we proceed?”
“We shall continue as planned.” Longstride rose to his feet, leaning over the table to activate the projector. The strategic holo-map of Melberg expanded into view until it covered the table. “Now that the Gue’la armoured forces have been halted, we shall complete the siege of this city,” he pointed to the heavily urbanised area to the south-west, “and secure our supply lines. We must not be distracted from our purpose, not even by these new arrivals.”
The High Command looked at one another and murmured with approval.
“Commander Sunshield, mobilise your urban task-cadres. I want the city taken as swiftly as possible.”
Gwendelia would pay the price for its resistance to the Greater Good.
As the general staff busied amongst themselves around the map and tactical read-outs, Longstride re-seated himself and gazed to the window, to the rolling countryside outside. To look at, it seemed so peaceful. “The Blood Martyrs…” he whispered to himself, breaking a wry smile. The battle for Melberg would prove more difficult than anyone had first thought.