The desert bred chills and frost among the air. The valleys of sand froze the platoon of the Holy Army in place. Just as they were about to rest their rifles, a series of barrages blasted towards them. The junior officer, Tulisen, waved his hand to the platoon besides him.
“Get down, get down!” Everybody buried part of their bodies underneath the sand. They started to attack the barbarians ahead of them. Those enemies, they wore long-sleeved shirts and cloth masks to conceal their identities. Well indeed, the Holy Army never knew who they were. They could only stare dead in their narrow eyes and their jaundice faces.
The enemies fired first. Their bullets zipped through the air and struck at some of Tulisen’s men. Only one was bleeding to death.
Tulisen ordered for first aid, and two soldiers escorted the injured one back to the camp. Still hidden in the environment, Tulisen sniped and killed the barbarians one by one. Right away, his men followed suit.
They cocked their rifles and launched a row of ammo towards them.
From afar, the blood of the fiends soaked and discolored the sands and rocks. Their brains blew out, their lips and nostrils turned white as a ghost. Still, they were relentless. A loud roar coming from them, the barbarians flung forward, and being close to the platoon, they opened fire.
“At this rate, we can’t-” A bullet flew through Tulisen’s shoulders. It grazed his armor. “Damn!” His heart almost stopped. One sentence more and he would have his brains explode. He returned his attention to the enemies.
One of his men suggested to fall back, but Tulisen declined. He stated that they should finish the fight, or die trying. It was after all, under the Lama himself, that the Holy Army need to engage the war to the very end, no matter how difficult things might be. Hearing that, they shivered from head to toe, and they started to fight back. Reloading and clicking the triggers, they spewed hell. More of the enemies died off, and one by one did they fall to the bottom of the sand. The men ceased firing. Once they stood up, they examined the bodies. Guts and muscles and bones the corpses exposed, Tulisen looked back, he suppressed his urge to vomit.
“This is what they get for declaring war on us,” he said. “Dang, we lost one man already.” Tulisen told the soldiers to retrieve the firearms and the ammunitions from the carcasses.
While they were doing that, Tulisen stared at the sand dunes far away from his vicinity. They coasted and waved along the ground, some of them were touching the clouds. The desert was vast and open, and it was quite so that Tulisen had no knowledge of what lied beyond. In fact, he and the others had never journeyed to the civilization of the desert barbarians. Only the High Order knew what was there, based on some of the officials sending themselves on diplomatic missions.
Though curiosity got the best of Tulisen, it was dangerous to go further than what was required of the officer. He stayed put, and feared that the enemies might show up again.
Going back to his unit, one of his soldiers reported that twenty-two enemies had died from the fight. Tulisen sweated and panted. For his platoon managed to wipe out a single group, he never expected for him and his men to win in such a harsh environment like this. He huffed his breath, and put his hands on his hips.
“Good job guys. Now let us go back to the camp. We ain’t got much to do today… except to mourn for our fellow comrades.” The soldiers gave the report on the casualties.
“One man died today, seven wounded.”
His men wept. So far, Tulisen had lost three men in the desert. Still, he moved on from their deaths; with his lead, his platoon returned to the camp. A dozen of tents there, to which most of them were for the accommodation of soldiers and officers, Tulisen departed from his men.
He headed for an open tent, the place where he could rest himself. Thus he sat on a chair, kicked his legs up the tables, and drank tea. He waited for other officers to arrive so that he could give a report on today’s skirmish.
As he leaned on the chair, he gazed at the desert and relished the setting of the sun. The sun itself touched the dunes and sailed towards the horizon. It brought the sky into a series of lines, each of the lines were brighter than the last, and it created a scarlet bloom. Tulisen chuckled. He wished that he could take somebody here and watch the colors with him. But, him being a bachelor, he groaned.
“I wonder what those girls are doing right now,” Tulisen said, he sipped the last of his tea. “They must be traumatized by the witch’s execution. Goodness, I hope they are okay.”
From the raid of the forest barbarians, after Tulisen took Neha and Sachen home, he immediately went to the temple and complained to the High Order about the fragility of the village’s defense. The officials said that the walls were in tatters, and that they were planning to make some improvements. Tulisen knew it would take more than words to convince them; but instead of asking more, he walked off. To him, the only viable solution was to raise more troops and maintain their upkeep by high taxes. The villagers would not complain of it one bit. Nonetheless, the defense was lacking, so it was best to get it done early or else they could face more of their terror.
To beg the question of himself, he asked how the barbarians of the east were able to obtain the equipment from the village. Days before the raid, he found out that the enemies had attacked the armory from the northern district during the middle of the night. Armors, guns, helmets, and flags, he couldn’t fathom their capability of pulling it off without getting caught. The ones at the northern gate could have apprehended them had all of them had not gone to sleep; if Tulisen were there, then he might have kept them awake. It was not much of a wonder when the Holy Army first met the raiders with confusing looks. They initially thought that they were part of their military. As clear as day, they got it wrong.
Tulisen put his porcelain cup on the table, and he rubbed his eyes. “I expect that this war will end in two weeks. But such expectation is unrealistic; those savages from the four corners of the land are attacking us simultaneously. They are clearly working together to destroy our civilization… well I can’t allow it. As long as the gods are helping us, then nothing can come in our way. We must be victorious, we must be gracious…”
A clink from the gold chain in his left pocket, and it sent chills down Tulisen’s spine. He gripped the chain, so hard that it peeled the dead skin from his palm. He recalled someone close to him. Right away, memories floated along his mind, and he tried to crush them all. But it ended up hurting his chest. Hissing and scratching himself, Tulisen groveled over the table. That someone was his superior, the person he used to follow and execute orders from, the person whose wife named Aijin he got along with.
Tulisen drew his breath. His eyes burned as the scarlet sky flourished.
“Yesun. It’s been a long time isn’t it? The last time I saw you, you were in handcuffs and were sent to the desert. And that was it.” Tulisen scowled, his head throbbed. “No, I shouldn’t tell your daughter about the outcome of your life. It would be too terrifying for her. But, I feel like I have to say it someday. It is never too late isn’t it? No, I shouldn’t do that. I think it is better to keep quiet about it. I can tell that you are hearing this Yesun, somewhere, wherever you are among the stars.”
Before Tulisen could say more, he coughed. He breathed slowly, and winced when the face of Yesun appeared before his eyes. He couldn’t help but think more about his former superior.
“You used to lead me on missions, and you were quite charismatic and dashing. Oh, you wished that your daughter can have the same traits as you; she is a stark contrast to you. But if you are wondering, she is okay right now, she is just trying to cope with her friend’s passing. Yes, that friend to whom you helped escape. You got in a great deal of trouble, and that’s where the High Order admonished you. The gods know where you are resting now. If I have time to spare, then I should search throughout the desert for you – or what remains of you.”
The junior officer refilled his cup, and drank more tea.