Book 8, Chapter 28 - Fighting For a Future

The order to mobilize had been given. Greenland, Ark Base, Gehenna and Emerald Star were all preparing for the assault. Transport vessels shuttled back and forth over Southern Capital in a constant flow. Humanity’s full capacity was focused on preparations for war.

Soldiers bid their final farewells to families. Everyone knew this battle would take them to the most remote parts of the universe, where the chances were high they wouldn’t make it back. If they won their names would go down in history as saviors of the human race. If they lost then everything they knew and loved would cease to be. No one would remember humans ever existed.

No one had any delusions. The stakes were clear.

This war was no trivial matter. To lose meant absolute annihilation and those who survived would be few to none. Indeed they were going to the heart of their enemy, a place too distant to fathom. No one had any idea exactly what they were racing towards.

Squall Rover returned to his home in Emerald Star’s Undercity.

A small child giggled as he trotted up to his father. “Daddy you’re back! Yay, daddy!” He yanked on Squall’s arm.

With a conceding laugh Squall stooped down to scoop him up. “Hey kiddo. Have you been causing trouble? Driving your mother crazy?”

“I’ve been good! Mommy hasn’t been mad.” The boy wrapped his arms around his father’s bandaged arm and held on tight.

Squall turned his attention to Luciasha who was standing nearby. He reached out and gently brushed the hair from her face with a free hand. He then gave her a gentle kiss on the head. “Keep this place cozy for me.”

Luciasha’s lips pressed tight as she regarded him. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, it’s time. I don’t know if-”

“Not a word!” She cut him off. Tears fell like liquid pearls down her cheeks. “I trust Cloudhawk. I know he’ll carry us through. You’re coming back – you have to, we’ll be waiting.”

Squall held his son in one arm and gently placed his other hand on Luciasha’s neck. His voice was low and comforting. “I will. I’ll come home. Then I won’t ever have to go anywhere again.”

She didn’t say anything. She just pressed in for a tight hug.

After a long time Squall moved away and put his son back on the ground. “I have to go.”

Perhaps the boy felt something for when Squall moved away he burst into tears. “Daddy, hold me! Hold me!”

But Squall instead pulled out a short exorcist rod and presented it to his son. “Hey kid, there’s something important I have to go take care of. I won’t be able to protect you and your mother while I’m gone, so you have to get strong. Study how to protect the family, you hear me?”

He didn’t wait to make sure the boy understood. Squall straightened up, turned, and walked out of the house.

“Daddy, don’t go! Daddy come back!”

As Squall left the sound of his son's cries rang in his ears. He clenched his fists and shut his eyes, then after a moment looked up toward the gnarled ceiling of Undercity. With a deep sigh he muttered, “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m ready.”

Frost de Winter was waiting outside, clad in simple gray battle garb. More than a dozen weapons were arrayed on his back. Beside him was a portly man and several other members of the Hand of Gehenna. They were all getting ready to participate in the raid.

“Time to get it done.”

“Let’s hope the next generation can know peace.”

No one said anything else. They joined the crowd filing into one of the transport vessels and vanished inside. A short while later the ship rose and cruised into the distance.

**

Meanwhile, in a place not far from Squall’s home, there was another father and child parting ways.

“Father, I’m going with you!” There was iron determination in Idonea’s voice. 

Bruno regarded his daughter. Gently patting her on the shoulder, he shook his head. “I know you’re grown. You’re brave, responsible, but you aren’t strong enough to join us this time. Stay home and train.”

Idonea was not pleased with the order. She wanted to protest but no sound came out. She wasn’t a fool, she knew she wasn’t strong enough to do anything. If she went she’d probably just get in the way. What rankled was that there were several her age who were strong enough to make a difference. She felt alone and useless, being forced to stay behind.

“This fight demands everything we’ve got. All of the family’s leaders are going. That means there’s a vacuum of leadership, one I’ll need you to fill. As the only one remaining behind from a direct line of descent, from this point on the family will be looking to you to guide them.” Bruno fixed his daughter with an earnest gaze. “No matter what happens, your job is to keep our family strong.”

Idonea’s vision blurred as tears gathered in her eyes. “I… I won’t let you down again.”

Bruno nodded. Idonea watched him board a ship with the other leaders of her family and disappear. Space rippled where they vanished and she watched them tremble until they, too, were gone.

**

On the other side of Undercity a man in full armor stood in silence before the door of a home. The place was sealed up tight. Eutropius had come to say his last goodbyes, but the ones he came to see apparently had no interest in seeing him.

“You still won’t even look at me?”

“… it’s fine, it is what it is. I just want to tell you that I love you more than anything else, in this world and any other. Past, present, future… everything I’ve done and will do is for you. You don’t have to forgive me… I don’t expect you to. I just want you to take care of yourself.”

“Goodbye.”

As the final words hung in the air between him and the door, Eutropius rested a hand gently upon his sword. As he turned away a keenness took his sight, the grim look of a soldier marching toward his doom. Heavy strides took him away from the home.

A few minutes later the door cracked open. A beautiful young woman peaked her head out, looking around for the man but finding him already gone. She stood in the doorway, silent and crestfallen, as the gentle winds blew.

***

A solitary grave.

“Hey little brother. I hope things are going well where you are.” Phoenix placed a half-empty bottle of alcohol on the ground. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re avenged. It’s the final battle and I don’t think I’ll be coming back...”

Phain, Pelagius, Gorman… scenes like this were being played over and over again across worlds as people said their goodbyes to loved ones. Never in its history had the human race been so united. Everyone knew this was a fight to the death. It was a one-way trip to where they were going.

Maybe they won. Maybe everything was destroyed. No one knew, but the chances of victory were slim. Everyone had to face the fact that they weren’t coming back. Hatred melted away, even the most deep-seated family feuds were nothing in the face of absolute destruction. It all had to be put to rest, for they marched toward the fight that would determine whether their species had any future at all.

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