The colonel was awake and moving hours before dawn. The whole regiment was decked out in full regalia – Not that the venture league has ever been regal in particular. It was a hodge-podge really, only loosely uniformed in the sense that every soldier in the 7th was allowed the distinct pleasure of customizing his uniform to some degree.
The moon glowed eerily, its soft light filtered by unseen clouds. It was by this dim light that the column slowly wound off the base grounds into the morning blackness. As soon as they passed the last outpost, the colonel reformed the column into a broad formation better suited to the wide steppes of Crux Nadir. At the formation’s center was company one; at the center of company one was unit one, and at its head was the colonel.
“… I only wish the sentinels would finish their new-fangled dropships. That’d make this trip easier, and we’d all be as fresh as we started out.” He overheard Guru whispering to Emarcee.
“Aye, but it’s been a stretch since we had a good night’s march though.” Emarcee reflected.
“Bah! The longer the better in my opinion. At least we won’t have any colonels besides our own to be suggesting, informing, commanding, and entirely mixing up our affairs. I would gladly sacrifice much sleep if I knew that no one but the 7th, with the colonel at our head, were taking the field.”
“What are you talking about?” Emarcee asked, befuddled by the apparent turn in conversation.
“I’m worried that whatever officer we are trying to relieve will attempt to take command of both regiments once we join them.”
“Oh come now, you’re an eternal pessimist is what you are. Isn’t that right Meilin?” Emarcee turned to his right.
The young woman muffled a yawn. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” She said sleepily, “But if it has anything to do with the discomfort of early hours, I heartily agree.”
TwoEdge leaned close to the colonel, a datapad in hand. “I haven’t found an inkling of information of a deployed regiment either nearby or in the deep.”
“Perhaps Palomar knows something that we don’t.” The colonel cinched his sword strap tighter.
“Maybe, but there’s not much the Nexus force knows about that the 7th didn’t find out first.”
Shadows fanned out from either side of the column like the spread wings of a bird of prey. These shadows were skirmishers, whose purpose it is to spread far in advance of the main body, guarding against ambuscades and serving as the Colonel’s eyes and ears.
They traveled as fast as possible across the barren steppes, not spotting a single human outside the ranks. They made camp the first night on a rare hill, which was really more of a rocky outcropping. It was late on the next day when the Colonel first spotted wreathes of smoke on the horizon. They came from the cooking fires of Zerstörtburg, a small village located across the bridge. The sun lay low on the horizon, dying the small hamlet red with its last rays.
“We should be seeing pirate patrols soon.” The Colonel said, scanning the horizon. “Halt! Ready weapons.”
After all weapons were readied the Colonel issued the order to move out, and the column started again. They wound down through the unbroken blanket of snow into a cup-like valley through which snaked a frozen river. A wooden bridge led into the village, composed of maybe a dozen makeshift huts. Only a few withered stumps broke the vast smoothness of the surrounding hills. “I don’t see any campfires,” TwoEdge whispered, “And there are fires in the village. I should think the natives would have fled as soon as the fighting began.”
The Colonel scanned the town, all was quiet. “You’re right mate. There’s no way a regiment could be crammed into so few huts, and beside that, there’s no sign of stromlings.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“I don’t like it Sir,”TwoEdge said firmly. “It’s too quiet.”