Edge of Darkness
Feeling the fierce sunlight shinning on his face, Atticus slowly opened his eyes and saw Clara standing right at his bedside in her full uniform (minus the medals she wore yesterday). Without saying anything she threw the newspaper right on Atticus' lap.
The headline read, "Republic Declares War on Atlantis."
"How..." Atticus widened his eyes in shock.
"We are getting deployed to the Frontier," Clara said while showing Atticus another piece of parchment. It was a billboard notice that she ripped off, which stated that all military officers just graduated from the Academy would need to report to the military base at the eastern border of the Frontier.
"Get dressed and packed," she said again, her voice completely devoid of any concern though. "There is a carriage picking up everyone outside by the tavern"
Their journey to the eastern front had been in silence, despite the carriage was filled with young officers like them. Most of them had a disturbed expression, shocked at the revelation that they were sent to the front line the day after graduation. To Atticus' surprise, sitting right across him was none other than Snowdin, who had his face buried in his palms for the entire trip. He had thought that someone like Snowdin could stay within the comforts of the Capitol thanks to his family connections. Yet, here he was, riding in the same carriage as his fellow graduates, all being sent to an actual war the Republic had not witnessed since the Civil War.
Upon reaching their destination, Atticus and Clara found that they were not at the border, but actually at a temporary base set up within the Frontier. As all the graduates were hustled into a large tent in the middle, Atticus couldn't help but gasp in horror at his surrounding. Already the base was lined with wounded and tired soldiers, all bloodied from an apparently violent confrontation last night. The limited medical personnel were either carrying stretchers with the wounded on them, or running around performing emergency operations to the large number of injured soldiers, some of them still have Atlantan arrows pierced into their bodies.
As they entered into a giant tent, the graduates stood in front of what appeared to be the commanding officers of the base. With a raised hand, the officer standing in the middle signaled the graduates to sit down.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he solemnly began to address his audiences. "Approximately two weeks ago, a patrol was sent into border areas between the Republic and Atlantis to apprehend a fugitive. We had lost contact with them until a few days ago all but one emerged back to our eastern outpost. We soon learned that the rest of his team were killed in an unprovoked ambush by the members of the Atlantan military."
There were murmurs among the audiences, but quieted down after one of the senior officers loudly tapped his boot on the ground.
"As you may concern," the commander continued after taking a deep breath. "The central government sees this cowardly action as an act of war." The murmur resumed and got even louder.
"Silence!" The same officer who tapped his boot exclaimed. Instantly the entire room ceased to make an single noise.
"Thank you Major," the commander said calmly. "What happened two weeks ago is the last straw for the Atlantans. Ever since the last attack that butchered our previous president, we had tried to settle things diplomatically. We refrained from declaring war back then not because we were caught at a vulnerable time, but we never want to relive the horrors again. We do not want the young to suffer through the same carnage their fathers and ancestors had gone through. However, we will not stand idle by to let our enemies ride on our generosity and mercy. Therefore, we must strike back deep and hard to make them pay for their aggression."
At this point, the room was erupted with cheers. The senior officers made no attempt to put it down though, as the commander's effort to drive up their morale seemed to be a success albeit the grim reality and the dire situation outside.
"However," the commander spoke again once the cheers died down. "No matter how resilient we are, our foe managed to seize the opportunity and attacked us last night when we were still preparing." Again the room had fallen into dead silence. One of the senior officer next to the commander pulled out a chalk board with a circle drawn on it, signifying their current position.
"Atlantan warriors had attacked our border outpost last night, and even our men fought hard, even when we attempted to pound at their locations with heavy artillery barrages, we were in disadvantage due to the night had blanketed their movement. We had been pushed back to this location." The officer pointed at an X on the chalkboard which showed the Republic outpost that was lost in the raid.
"Yet worry not, for the war has only begun and you shall lead us to deliver judgement on them!
"Due to the lack of officers to take charge of the enlisted troops, we hereby initiate a new strategy that utilizes the new bloods we have. Instead of a further three-months training as usual, you, as the new generation of officers, will join in an existing team led by an experienced officer where you will act as a second in command and if the situation requires, to take lead. Depends on your assessment, you will be given your own squad within a short period of time. Most of you will take part in the upcoming drive to retake the base. Your respective squad leader will provide you with further details
"That's about it ladies and gentlemen. May we prevail. Disperse!"
Atticus aimed the Invictus at the shooting range after loading a clip into it. He squeezed the trigger, propelling a round towards his target. It fell short of the bullseye, but what really concerned Atticus was its recoil which was greater than the more updated model he used during target practices at the Academy.
"That's a pretty old model you you holding son," the quartermaster said next to him. "You sure you don't want to switch for a newer one?"
Atticus frowned. Though he felt like it would be easier for him to use the standard model which he was used to, he believed with some practices he could still manage the same pistol his father used.
"Negative sir. I will stick with this one."
"Alright then son," the quartermaster handed him a few extra magazine clips. "Good luck out there."
Atticus turned to watch Clara practicing with an Enfield rifle in the next lane. All her shots landed onto, or right next to the bullseye. He also noticed that her long auburn hair was no longer tied in a bun, which was a standard military protocol for female personnel when on duty. A second but less popular option also existed for the female soldiers, and that was to keep their hair at shoulder length maximum, a style Clara had find no trouble adapting into now.
"Scared?" Atticus asked as Clara unloaded her last round.
"Surprisingly not," she replied. "And you shouldn't be as well."
"I saw it in your eyes Atty. You don't have to hide it though," she said softly. "No one expects things can take a turn like this. No one is prepared for it I am certain. Not even me."
Atticus sighed. Somehow, Clara was always able to look through his emotions. Sometimes, he even thought that she knew more about his internal turmoils than himself.
"I wish I have your confidence Clara," he muttered.
"There is a fine line between confidence and stoic," she said. "The amount that I can endure does not translate how much I truly think of my ability."
As Atticus tried to conjure a response, an officer with two golden stripes on his collar approached from behind them.
"Patton," the captain called. "We need you to saddle up at the stable in five."
"Yes captain," Clara said. The senior officer turned back and left without another word.
"So... the Cavalry. Glad you took my advise." Atticus smiled.
"I got assigned," she replied blankly. Suddenly she grabbed Atticus by the shoulder
"Remember what you promised me last night?" she said while gazing at the ground.
"Huh?" Atticus stared at her, suddenly remembering their last conversation the previous evening. "Oh. Come on Clara, I will be fine." As he brushed her hands away and turned to leave, she grabbed him by his bicep.
"Look Atty," she exclaimed, and in one of the few moments since knowing her, Atticus could sense nervousness in her voice. "Things will easily get out of hand once the first shot has been fired. If you ever run into any trouble, don't hesitate to fire up a signal flare. I will come to your aid instantly."
Atticus swung free of Clara's grip. Though he understood where she was coming from, he no longer could hide his frustration at her overbearing personality.
"Clara, I want you to remember one thing." He could hear his voice raising and cheeks burning. "I. Will. Be. Fine. Don't jeopardize your mission because of me. You are a soldier now, so stop putting your personal concerns over your mission!"
Clara continued to stare at the ground, and although Atticus regretted raising his voice at his friend moments before deploying, he knew he had to finally get his message across before it became too late. He turned around and started to step away from the shooting range. Although he told himself not to turn around no matter what she said next, Clara simply kept gazing at the ground silently.
Atticus had never travelled outside of the Fringe into the Frontier region. In fact, most of the residents from the Capitol and the Fringe would avoid doing so after most of the region was scarred by the Civil War. Before today, he actually desired to adventure outside the Republic's comfort zone to explore, even within the barren land of the Frontier. However, he lacked the same enthusiasm today as he marched into the region with his new squad. Their objective was simple: reach the base, provide covering fire along with other vanguard squads while the Cavalry charge in.
Soon after leaving Clara behind, he got deployed into a vanguard squad composed of eight enlisted led by a captain. To his surprised, all eight of the enlisted were young rookies just like him, all fresh out of boot camp. They were all from the villages around the Fringe, except younger. Though Atticus tried to learn all of their names, he never got the time to do so as they were told to move out moments after he settled down in his new team.
Captain Gibson on the other hand was in his early thirties and hence the most experience of the group. A lean and tall figure, he was able to introduce Atticus quickly prior leaving the base. To his further surprise, Gibson was not originally stationed at the eastern border outpost like most of the senior officers, but rather was transferred to the temporary base this morning from the Alamo, the southern outpost of the republic.
"So, you are telling me you are also a newcomer to this region?" Atticus asked as they started to march into greenland. He was walking right next to the captain who didn't seem to mind having a junior officer right next to him.
"Yes kid. Didn't even know what was going on until this morning, when I reported to my shift and was told that I would be transferred." Gibson replied with a casual tone. "But rest assured. I had actually seen real combat at the Alamo. Freaking Colonies brat always tried to conduct hit and run assaults at the most inconvenient time."
Along with the other vanguard squads, they started to approach a forest. An unnamed landmark, it was the only thing separating between them and the outpost. A worn out wooden sign was planted at the forest's entrance, warning tourists that a military outpost was ahead. Gibson held up his hand to halt his team. Looking around them, Atticus saw from a distance other vanguard squads also stopped at the forest's edge.
"Listen up," Gibson turned to his troops. "This ain't no Atlantan forest, yet beyond this point we should be expecting ambushes from all side, so I want each and all of you to stay alerted."
Atticus noticed that half his teammates turned pale once hearing the captain's statement while the others tightened their grips on their rifles.
"Remember basic training," Gibson continued. "Calmly scan the area with your weapons ready. Yet I don't want anyone to start shooting at anything that moves. If you see anything suspicious, notify your mates discreetly."
As Gibson emphasized his word, Atticus also found himself gripping tightly on his rifle like his teammates.
"Lastly, when you brave through the forest, don't get cocky. As I said, this ain't no Atlantan forest. Compared to that, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Any question?"
There were no voice from the group. Gibson nodded and turned around to step forward into woods.