The Behemoth roars as it sends death flying across the field.
The wooden target shatters with the impact, a burst of flame and electricity tearing through along with the deadly projectile.
Lieutenant Colonel Wernau’s marksmanship was impeccable; it should be, he thinks to himself, he’d spent a lifetime perfecting it. His rifle unit had been the first to field test the Mark I at the Battle of Starfall thirty years before.
The colonel reluctantly looks up from the scope as a young private approaches.
“Private Dode, report.” The colonel’s clipped tone makes the messenger snap to attention. Wernau was expecting news. They’d readied several squads of marines as soon as the Seafoam outpost spotted the oncoming airship and sent them in search of the invaders.
“Sergeant Cassail’s squad has made contact, sir.”
“And? Where are they?”
“In Tanglewood. The Visitor’s Center.”
So the airship landed somewhere to the east of the Arkanic site. That narrowed down the search. “Does Cassail and his men have the intruders contained?"
“No?” Wernau was surprised. After all, Cassail was a Burner Third Class.
“Sergeant Cassail’s dead, sir. Four other confirmed casualties. Two of the squad are still unaccounted for.”
“What happened?” Wernau almost absently loads the next round into the stock of the Behemoth. It hummed to life as it prepared to fire again.
“Sergeant Cassail’s squad were sweeping Tanglewood as ordered when they located the intruders in the Visitor’s Center. After a brief skirmish, Cassail retreated and tried to lure them out into the open, but they dug in deep. Sergeant Cassail led his squad in after them.”
He got impatient, and it got him and his men killed, Wernau grouses to himself as he fills in the rest of the details. The marines should have held their position, kept the intruders pinned down, waited for reinforcements, then swept into the Visitor’s Center. Outmanned and outgunned, a single squad of marines would have been no match for a crew that managed to get past the Seafoam armada, even with a Burner. Sergeant Cassail should have known better. Wizards were supposed to be smarter than that.
“The intruders’ current whereabouts are unknown, sir," Private Dode finishes.
“We’ll find them. Get me Major Erres.” The colonel takes aim across the firing range at the next wooden targert. Private Dode salutes sharply and exits.
Wernau squints and fires the Behemoth. The shot hits the target, but off-center. The wooden effigy goes spinning round and round on its pole but remains upright.
Wernau takes a deep, frustrated breath, filling his nostrils with the scent of gunpowder, and reloads again.