Kalas and the other sharpshooters stepped out from behind the cover and slowly made their way towards the dead soldiers. They kept their rifles raised and watched for any last-minute martyrdom.
“Edvard, check the runner,” he said without looking up from the iron sights. Edvard broke off from the group and ran over to the dead soldier. When they confirmed that all the men were dead, they started checking for intelligence. Letters, orders, dispatches, anything that could help prepare another ambush. When they took what was of value, they stripped the ammunition and rations off the dead. Kalas made sure that nobody looted the corpses.
“Anything of value?” Kalas asked.
“Orc bandits continue wanton savagery” Mikkel read from a newspaper taken from a rucksack. The rest of the unit gathered to see what the press had to say about them. They had listened to the newspaper reports for eight years. It was like a ritual, a way to keep the fires of anger burning as they fought against the empire.
“Bandits. We’re not even a resistance or rebellion, we’re bandits,” said Sigeberht. Insult aside, it was a painful sign of the weakening of the Orc resistance. Day by day, they were being ground down to nothing. It was a death that would last a generation.
“Imperial governor-general Andreas Arneau has placed the Colonial Railway Union under martial authority to combat the series of deadly train car raids of the last three months,” Mikkel continued. While it gave Kalas a sliver of satisfaction to think of the board of the railway company being forced to surrender their offices and employees to the colonial garrison, it was quickly dissipated by the reality that now the rail lines would be carrying armored trains full of soldiers.
“As if the country didn’t have enough of these bastards,” Sigeberht scoffed as he put his pipe in his mouth. The rest of the men took seats or grabbed a bite to eat. Kalas removed his hat and ran his hand through his hair. He was tired and the sun was still oppressive. Each summer seemed longer than the last, each day hotter and harder. It seemed like a lifetime since he had been able to rest. Every day, every week brought new orders and more marching, more fighting, more killing and more dying. Day after day. Eight years of war. Kalas could feel exhaustion coating his bones.
He looked to his men. Their faces were just as haggard as his. Mustaches grown into full beards, eyes sunken and dirt caked over their faces. Mikkel’s left tusk was chipped off and broken from where a rifle butt hit him in the face. Sigeberht had a bloody bandage wrapped around his forehead. It was clear that they were just as exhausted as Kalas.
“Where to next, captain?” Edvard asked. The question dragged Kalas out of his head and back into the heat. One successful raid would not end the occupation. In fact, it would only make it stricter for the immediate. But if enough raids meant that maybe his men could put down their rifles and finally rest, then he’d keep fighting.
“We can’t stay here. They’ll have a reconnaissance car out here in a matter of hours. We’ll head north, to the red twins. There’s a blockhouse and magazine there. We’ll strike there next,” he said, rubbing his temples. The red twins were a two day’s march north across rough country. Kalas picked always chose rough country.
“Sore feet, dry blades” Mikkel said, with a chuckle as he slung his pack up on one arm and grabbed a second rifle from a dead soldier.
“Sore feet, dry blades” Kalas said with a half-smile.
“Sore feet, dry blades!” the men shouted, with a sarcastic tone throughout. It was a saying that had been thrown around Orc armies since the time of the great empire of 1052. Taking the hard road meant less blood split. Kalas looked down to the blood drying in the sun-baked earth.
Enough blood has been split today, he thought.