Moving a large number of troops from one place to another is not an easy task, particularly when the move involves different continents. Even moving troops from an island to a mainland can require months of preparation before the operation begins. If an enemy is watching, then deception plays a major part in the plans. It is necessary to convince the enemy that one expects to land on beach A, when the real target is beach B, a hundred miles away.
In the early days of the war between the IFN and Jade Force, the IFN was repeatedly surprised when forward positions which were being fortified in areas belonging to coalition nations, were suddenly taken with the capture of the coalition nation. To the civilian onlookers, there had been no real progress in getting down to the business of war. It appeared that the IFN forces were dawdling along and not making any progress in advancing on Jade Force. Only one beachhead was established and that was through Niella from Walford. The attempt by the IFN to move into Jade Force occupied territory met with disaster, and their forces were wiped out.
Jade Force, on the other hand, could mass across a border and sweep in without any major difficulties in moving troops. Countries fell until Jade Force, or the Jade Empire as it was now calling itself, effectively controlled the entire continent. It was at that point where Jade Force now faced the same difficulties that had faced the IFN coalition in establishing a beachhead in enemy occupied territory.
The captured Second Fleet of the Chen Navy started making great circuits scouting out the eastern coastline of the Eastland continent. The fleet would move from Del Moray to Ulamb, up along the coast to Hamasada, along the coast of Hamasada and then north to the southern coast of Grete before returning to Del Moray. It had been making this circuit almost from the day Jade Force had captured the Second Fleet.
Each time the Jade Empire fleet made that circuit, Ulamb ran its fleet between its shore and the Second Fleet acting as a guard force, in case the Second Fleet suddenly turned and headed towards shore. Hamasada and Grete did the same. Thus, there was an escort for the Second Fleet on each of its circuits. Fighter jets launched from the Second Fleet’s carrier would make quick overflights of the shore while the other side scrambled its jets to counter. It was a game of cat and mouse; although who was the cat, and who the mouse, remained an open question.
The eastern coast of Ulamb, was rough. Large jagged rocks all along the coastline made approach from the sea dangerous. Small craft could navigate around the rocks, but for an all out assault the route was hostile to a fleet of landing craft. There was a small section of shoreline, about twenty miles in length, that was relatively free of the huge rocks. Ulamb was convinced that Jade Force was planning to invade in that region where the beaches allowed an amphibious assault. IFN command, fairly confident that Ulamb was correct, ordered the construction of defensive structures overlooking the shoreline. Each time the Second Fleet steamed past that region of Ulamb, the defenses would go on high alert.
Hamasada had a shoreline that favored an amphibious assault to a greater extent than any other portion of the eastern coastline of Eastland. There were long sandy beaches, with approaches to the shore that were free of major obstructions. With the vast length of shoreline to protect, there was no way to protect the entire length of it. Thus, Jade Force would have its choice of where to attack. Hamasada was convinced that it would be the site of the initial invasion. IFN command didn’t agree on the basis of logistics. Jade Force would have to transport men and equipment a further distance, and they would be relatively exposed upon landing. Both factors increased the risk to Jade Force that it would lose a significant fraction of its forces before it could even begin moving across country. None the less, coastal watches were set up with direct lines to air support and land forces.
Grete had been confused by the frequent passing of the Second Fleet along its southern shore. It wasn’t exactly located in a strategic position. Even if Jade Force landed there, and took Grete, the neutral country of Palarma would be between Jade Force and the rest of the continent. At best, it would represent a slightly closer staging area than Del Moray. Coast watches were established, but they didn’t react with the same high degree of alertness when the Second Fleet passed by.
IFN slowly moved forces into Ulamb. Before people could be moved in, significant construction of an infrastructure to support the forces was required. Large numbers of construction engineers were brought along with defensive troops to protect them. As facilities were completed, supplies necessary to support a large number of people were store there. After that, personnel were brought in to fill the facilities.
A small airfield in the southern part of Ulamb underwent significant renovation to lengthen and bring the surface of the runways up to a level that would support the demands of the Chen squadrons. Bunkers were built to house the jets. Dorms were built to house the personnel. Fuel and food were brought in.
One of the larger ports in the northern part of Ulamb, in the city of Sadre, was expanded to support one of the IFN fleets that would hold troops who would ultimately invade Surprise. The entry to the port was widened. Additional piers were built. Buildings, permanent and temporary, appeared as if by magic. Elements of fleets from coalition countries showed up and docked in the ports.
There had been no port on the eastern shore in the southern part of Ulamb. Unfortunately, that was where a port was needed to provide a presence that could keep the Misera Navy at bay. A second port was built there, in what passed as a reasonable harbor. The entire infrastructure was built from scratch.
The Jade Empire still sent the Second Fleet out, keeping it further off shore than in the past. Attempts to challenge their fleet were met with torpedoes fired from submarines moving off the flanks of the fleet.
Then the size of the Jade Empire Fleet suddenly doubled in size when naval vessels from Del Moray, Misera, Ismal, New Franc, San Troph, and Walford joined it. Tensions along the eastern shore of Eastland increased. It was clear that invasion was imminent.
Then one day, there was a report from the northern part of Hamasada that sent shock waves through the IFN Force command. In an isolated section of a national park, there was debris that indicated that over a thousand men, twenty tanks, and thirty armored personnel carriers had parachuted in. It had arrived sometime during a time window that spanned a three day period. Amongst the debris was a mangled San Troph APC whose parachute had failed to open. No one had reported seeing anyone or anything.
All available aircraft were sent north to search for the invading force. The effort to locate the invading force was massive. Day and night planes flew over the area. During the daylight periods, they looked for movement. During the night, they looked for heat signatures. For three days, they searched and found nothing.
Ships and planes tracked the Second Fleet as it moved along the southern coast of Grete. In a break of their long established pattern, the fleet paused for two days off the coast before resuming its regular circuit. Forces raced into the area of the coastline near where the fleet had paused searching to see if something had happened there.
“Why do we get all of the dirty jobs?”
“Because we’re all so good looking.”
“Get real. You’ve got a face that even a mother couldn’t love.”
“Did you set the charges?”
“Set them off.”
One of the men shouted, “Fire in the hole!”
Everyone turned away and covered their ears. An old tank and two trucks went up in a loud explosion. The group of ten Gangin, members of an elite special forces team, watched the vehicles burn. They had been dropped behind enemy lines to convince the enemy that there was a force of a thousand running around the countryside.
They had collected the parachutes that had been dropped with dummy loads made of ice. When the ice melted there would be no sign that the parachutes had not held a person. It had taken them hours to stuff the parachutes back into their packs. They drove the tank on and off the palettes used when parachuting heavy loads into a war zone. They had driven the two trucks around, tearing up the ground. They had spent most of the night establishing that a real army had been dropped behind enemy lines.
They had then driven a couple of miles into a ravine. They had spent hours making sure that there were no tracks to indicate where they had gone. For the past few days they’d stayed hidden with their covered vehicles, and had watched the planes fly overhead.
“Let’s head out. I’d like to get back to a soft bed and hot food.”
The men walked over to a battered old delivery van. The name of a car parts company was painted across the side. It was the kind of vehicle people see every day, and think nothing of it.
“Couldn’t you have stolen a better van?”
“I tried. All I could find was this stupid delivery van.”
“It’s too small.”
“If we need more room, we’ll steal another van.”
“Let’s load up and go.”
The men climbed into the van. It was cramped and uncomfortable. There was more than a bit of complaining as the men sorted themselves out. A minute later the van rumbled down the road, rattling with each and every bump it hit.
For the past week, they had managed to distract a quarter of the IFN forces and all of their intelligence operations. Not bad for just ten men.
Sword Anat turned to Vice Admiral Speers and said, “It’s time to head to Ulamb.”
The Admiral turned and relayed orders to the captain. It would take a few minutes for his orders to circulate amongst all of the ships of the fleet.
“It’ll be good to stop chugging around in circles.”
Sword Anat said, “It was necessary.”
Off the southern tip of Ulamb was an island that had been devastated by a volcanic eruption several decades earlier. The volcanic rock and lack of water on the island left it uninhabitable. No one ever visited the island since, not even fisherman.
Each time the fleet of the Jade Empire had made the circuit, two troop carriers would leave the fleet to drop men and equipment onto the island. Two empty troop carriers would then rejoin the fleet for the rest of the circuit. After nearly a year of doing that, there had been a massive army within shouting distance of the Ulamb mainland, and no one associated with the coalition forces even guessed they were there.
Now that army was on the move and it was time for the fleet to bring the war to the northern end of Ulamb. It would take days for the fleet to reach there, but once it did it wouldn’t leave until Ulamb was conquered. Any pockets of resistance along the coast would whither under the bombardment of naval artillery.
“I feel uneasy about our rules of engagement.”
Sword Anat answered, “I can understand why. Unfortunately, history has shown that this war must be fought in this manner.”
“I must have missed the history class where they taught that. Would you mind explaining it to me?”
“The whole continent of Eastland, with the exception of Khung, is controlled by hundreds of tribal units, which are bound by blood. Whenever they’ve been invaded in the past, the individual tribes will react in what they view as being their best interest. Some will resist, some will collaborate, and others will wait to see what direction the wind is blowing.
“When it looks like a tribe is about to be defeated, the leadership of the tribe will negotiate a cease fire. The tribe will use that time to recover. It then returns to war, not as an overt fighting force, but as a covert force that sets traps and little ambushes designed to wear down the invader.
“An invading army soon discovers that it is surrounded and infiltrated by enemies, many of whom are posing as friends. They will smile at you while planting bombs under your bed. The result is a constant erosion of the invading army. What was initially a victory becomes a standoff and then evolves into a defeat.
“That is the kind of enemy that we are facing in Ulamb.”
Admiral Speers said, “I don’t see how you can defeat them.”
“There is one thing every tribe fears.”
“What is that?”
“The complete elimination of their bloodline.”
“I don’t follow.”
Sword Anat said, “Each generation is raised listening to a family history. Many of the families can trace their ancestry back thirty or more generations. As children, they are told stories of the triumphs of their ancestors. The weak and ineffectual are culled from the stories by dying before they accomplish anything worthy of being told in a story. Thus, the family history becomes a tale of heroes and conquerors.
“Young boys, by listening to these stories, are convinced that they are to be the next generation of heroes. Their fathers tell them so. They dream of their victories being added to the family history that will be told by their descendants. Each and every one of them knows that even if they die on the battlefield before having a child, their life will be remembered to the children of their brothers and cousins. With a single victory on the battlefield, however minor, they will achieve a kind of immortality.
“The stories convey more than just their ancestry. They also tell of the strategies and tactics that were tried. Successes and failures of these tactics are told and retold. The stories become a lesson in how to fight an enemy. So each child is taught thirty or more generations of military history. It is an amazing inheritance.
“The complete elimination of the bloodline, means that all of those stories are lost. It is as if each and every ancestor ceases to be. Their chance of immortality is stolen from them, and they become nothing. They die a true death.
“That is what they truly fear. It’s not their individual death. It is the death of a heroic line.”
Admiral Speers said, “I see where keeping that heroic line would be important to them.”
“That is the weapon that we wield. We don’t threaten them with just an individual death, here or there. We threaten to remove them from the annals of history. Failure to surrender, means death to the bloodline. Treachery after surrender, means death to the bloodline. Only by accepting us, will the bloodline continue. For that to work, each and every tribe must understand that we are completely serious. We won’t prove our seriousness by talk, but by action. Entire tribes must be eliminated to the last man, woman, and child.
“That’s why when we order a bombardment, it is to continue until there is not one person left alive.”
Admiral Speers asked, “Do you think it will work?”
Sword Anat gave him a weak smile before answering, “There is one lesson from history that all of the Eastland bloodlines in existence today carry with them. It is a lesson they learned when facing the Great Khung. When fighting an enemy who will eliminate your entire bloodline, it is best to surrender. Empires will come and go, but the bloodline must be preserved. Our strategy will work, but a lot of people will have to die before we can declare it a success.”
“I see. You know that the world views what you are doing as a war crime.”
Sword Anat said, “The world has already declared war on us for what it perceives as war crimes on our part. It’s better to die for being a lion, than a house cat.”
“That does not make me feel any better about firing on civilians.”
“Civilians? We won’t see any civilians in Ulamb. There aren’t any civilians on Eastland. Every male over puberty is armed and ready to fight. The women will support them. The children can’t wait until it is their turn to pick up arms. That’s not a society of civilians. That is a society of fighters and we are fighting them. Never think otherwise.”
“I suppose you’re right. It’s the Sviss Treaties that say differently.”
Sword Anat moved to look out the window of the ship. The ocean outside was relatively calm. The sky was clear. The appearance of calmness was deceptive. The ocean was a terrible power that could transform from gentle to dangerous in the blink of an eye.
Without turning to face the Admiral, Sword Anat said, “The IFN is at war with us. It might surprise you to learn that we are not at war with it. Our real enemy is the Sviss Treaties. As long as the treaties stand, there will never be peace. No war will ever be fought to a final conclusion. Millions will die, needlessly.
“I am not a politician. I am a warrior. I understand War in a way that no politician can understand it. The Sviss Treaties are the work of politicians, who don’t even know what they’ve done.”
Surprised at the anger in Sword Anat’s voice, Admiral Speer asked, “What have they done?”
“Under the Sviss Treaties, the world makes idiotic distinctions that have no bearing in reality. There is a hypocrisy at work that should nauseate a sane person.
“The man firing a bullet is a ‘legal target’. The man or woman who delivers the bullet, is not. You can destroy the factory where bullets are produced, but you aren’t to kill the people who work there. Sure, the explosion when the factory is destroyed might kill people, but that is collateral damage. Oops, so sorry; we didn’t mean it.
“You don’t bomb a neighborhood; you bomb the water purification system, so that the people sicken and die. You can destroy the infrastructure so that people become impoverished. That is okay even though poverty is a greater killer than war. Death through hunger, disease, and crime is okay. A bullet in the heart is not. A slow death is preferable to a quick death.
“The world counts the casualties of a war in an absurd manner. We have to chop the number of casualties into little pieces, so that the totals don’t sicken us. A war has a date on which it began and on which it ended. You don’t count the people who died before the war officially began. You don’t count the people who died after the war officially ended. You don’t count the people who die without a weapon involved. You don’t count the number of people who die in the next war, that is birthed as a result of the last war.
“And the ones who return home missing a body part or two don’t matter. Thanks for your contribution of a limb. By the way, do you have a brother who wants to fight? We can always use a few more good men who are intact.
“Some of the best young people of a nation are ruined. These are the folks who believe in their country and will stand up to defend it. A man who could have created great art never paints, because the hand that would have held the brush is gone. The man who would have rushed into a burning building to rescue the people trapped inside, can’t run because his legs are gone. Men who could have been great leaders, wander off because their memories won’t let them sleep at night. War destroys survivors, as well as those who die in it.
“Then there are the widows and orphans left behind. They really don’t matter. So what if a widow can’t afford to pay for a higher education for her kids? Great minds that could discover amazing things are left to cope in ignorance. Such a waste.
“The world sees war after war, because each one is neatly packaged and marketed in a way to minimize the real cost of it, both in terms of money and lives ruined. It was just a little war, just like the one before it and the one that is going to come after it.
“As a warrior, I am forced to look at war in an honest way. I avoid the hypocrisy of the Sviss Treaties where the issues that led to the war remain points of contention at the end of the war. That is more of a cease fire than an end. Warriors don’t look to start wars, but to end them. A war has to end decisively. There can be no issues remaining outstanding and unresolved.”
“You really believe your approach is better?”
“Yes. Since our actions in Palarma, there hasn’t been a single death from a radical follower of Jarjan in that country. Before our actions, fifty to a hundred people a day were killed by fanatics. More women than that were raped. There are a million people alive today who would have been killed by the fanatic followers of Jarjan.
“We killed eighty thousand or more fanatics, but our actions saved millions. The fanatics killed almost a quarter million people in four years. The end of the war was almost a civil war. The world only saw the people who died, not those who were saved. The world doesn’t consider the fact that it will be decades before radicals return to Palarma.”
“That’s true for Palarma,” Admiral Speers said quietly. “What about what we are doing now?”
“The world sees us as blood thirsty killers. They saw the number of people we killed on a highway into San Troph. It moans and groans in shock. It doesn’t matter to them that it was an armed force invading territory that we claimed.
“They ignore the fact that we sent even more men, soldiers we had captured, back home to where they could take care of their families. Countries like Franca are angry that we returned them rather than kept them locked up in prisoner of war camps as suggested by the Sviss Treaty Two. Mothers, wives, and children cried tears of happiness upon the return of their men. The politicians want to imprison them for giving their word that they would not return to fight us. I am dismayed by the brutal indifference the politicians show to their own citizens.
“We will be condemned by the world when we wipe out a couple of bloodlines in Eastland. Half a million people might die in the process. Once we are done, it will be over. There will be no more little wars on Eastland, where millions will die because someone wants to add his name to the family history as a hero. The world won’t see that because ... well ... you can’t count things that don’t happen.
“It won’t see that we will dismantle that tradition that makes continuous outbreaks of war inevitable on Eastland. We’ll do that without shedding any more blood. We won’t do it directly. We’ll distract people from having the free time in the evening when they would have told the family histories. There will be after school activities, and shopping malls that are open late. There will be sports events to attract their attention on the weekends. We’ll add movies and televisions shows that appeal to the masses. We’ll have them locked in front of the televisions, rather than telling their own stories.
“In three or four generations, they will have forgotten their history. The martial tradition of Eastland will become a thing of the past. There will be no more young men looking to become radical followers of Jarjan, so that their name can live in a family history. People will move to the cities, where they will work in factories, schools, or offices. They won’t carry a rifle with them.
“We’ll conquer Eastland with guns. We will defeat Eastland with distractions.”
Sword Anat turned back to Admiral Speers and asked, “When we give the order to fire, will you fire until there is no one left?”
On the third night after the discovery of the Hamasada airdrop, forty seven amphibious landing craft disgorged their passengers into six sleepy fishing villages on the western shore of Ulamb. Communication lines were cut, power was shutdown, cell towers were taken out, and roads were blocked. In a matter of an hour, the fishing villages were isolated. The leaders of the villages were given the choice of surrender or die. Wisely, they choose to surrender.
A handful of troops from the Jade Empire were left in each village. The village leaders were warned that if anything happened to those men, that the entire town would die ... man, woman, child, and pet fish! The invaders struck off eastward. The amphibious landing craft headed south. They would return in seven hours filled with more men and equipment.
The first anyone with a military connection in the IFN within Ulamb knew about the invasion, was at dawn when Jade Empire forces swept through the airbase where the Chen squadrons were parked. The surprise was complete. It was a short, but extremely violent battle. The forces guarding the base were wiped out. Support personnel and pilots were captured. Most importantly, the three squadrons of planes and two dozen assault helicopters were taken, intact.
An hour later, Jade Empire pilots climbed into the captured planes and took off. Squawking an IFF signal identifying them to the IFN as friendly, they headed to the nearest port. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Ships were tied up at dock. Men were only beginning to move around the base. Defenses were not fully manned. The fighters let loose with air to ground missiles taking out targets of opportunity. The bombers dropped their loads on the ships, sending them to the bottom of the harbor. For those on the ground, it was fifteen minutes of hell. Before any kind of response could be launched, the attacking planes were gone.
The battle for Ulamb had begun.
There was a stench of death and destruction in the air. Dust blew in swirls that clogged the nose and irritated the eyes. Smoke from fires that were still burning drifted through open spaces like fog in the morning. Underlying all of the other smells, there was the chemical odor of spilled petroleum.
At each collapsed building, men were hard at work moving rubble while searching for survivors. As unlikely as it might seem based on the destruction, there were survivors. Overstressed medics worked on those still alive, while other soldiers loaded bodies into body bags.
Admiral Mallard walked along the street on which the bombed out facilities were posed like the shattered remains of trees after a direct hit by tornado. He was followed by dozens of officers. It was a surprisingly quiet group of men. The only noise came from the vehicles that were following them.
In the distance there was the rumble as another building, weakened by bombs, collapsed. In the same way that a small movement of snow could start an avalanche, small shifts in the forces holding structures up would ultimately bring some of them down. For the men working in and around the buildings, it was a constant source of danger.
A small car pulled up beside the group with Admiral Mallard. Captain Aquavita from the Office of Naval Intelligence climbed out of the car. He did not look happy.
“So what happened?”
“It appears that forces from the Jade Empire bombed us with the planes that had been provided to us by Chen.”
“How did they get the planes from Chen?” Admiral Mallard asked.
Captain Aquavita answered, “We don’t know. All we know is that the airbase was taken a couple of hours ago.”
“Where did the forces from the Jade Empire come from?”
“We don’t know.”
“Is it that group that parachuted into Hamasada?”
“They couldn’t have gotten here yet. It has to be from a different invasion force.”
“So they have two damned armies running around, and we don’t know where they came from, and what they’re doing?”
“We know some of what they’re doing. A half an hour ago, our radar tracked over fifty planes flying into the captured airbase from off shore.”
“We think most of them are fighter jets. Taking into account the Chen squadrons that they captured, they outnumber our air assets three to one.”
“Where in the hell did they get fifty jet fighters?”
“They’ve got the combined assets of nine air forces. They’ve got fighters, bombers, tankers, tank killers, and transports. If they’ve sent fifty planes here, we estimate that they have at least another hundred and fifty back in Surprise. I don’t know if we’ll be seeing them any time soon, but we might.”
“If they’ve got that many planes, here; then how many men do you think they have, here?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“I don’t know. Several thousand, at least. That’s not counting the thousand we believe are coming in from Hamasada.”
“How could they get that many men here without us knowing about it?”
“I don’t know.”
Admiral Mallard turned to Captain Fuentes, “How many ships do we have that are still afloat?”
“We didn’t even know the planes were the enemy’s until the bombs hit. No one had a chance to set up any kind of defense.”
“My entire fleet is gone, and I didn’t even get them out of port.”
Ulamb was one of those countries that, like most of the countries on the continent of Eastland, had a weak central government. The real governing forces were the leaders of what were effectively tribes of ten to thirty thousand people bound together by geography and blood ties. These leaders were basically war lords. Every male ... well, at least males over fifteen ... carried a rifle.
At any given time, two or three tribes were at war with each other, somewhere on the continent. While there weren’t any out and out battles involving large armies, there were many raids. What this meant is that Ulamb was a country of hardened fighters. They were trained and supported by generations of tradition. They weren’t disciplined soldiers who marched in formation and coordinated attacks of major forces. They were raiders – fighters who went into battle as individuals. They were also followers of Jarjan.
What this meant from the perspective of the Jade Empire was that capturing the leaders of the central government did not grant control over the country. Controlling the country required getting each tribe to submit to the Jade Empire, and that was easier said than done. Other countries had tried and failed, often in a spectacular manner.
A dirty white pickup truck, generating a plume of dust, pulled into the small town. It was a typical Ulamb town, with a population of a little over three thousand people. There was a small market in the center of town. The market was surrounded by houses, and each house had a high wall that surrounded it. The gates granting access to the properties were massive.
The truck came to a stop in front of a small shop, just off the central market. It was a combination coffee and tea house. The front of the shop was open to the market. A small group of old bewhiskered men were seated on large pillows inside the shop drinking small cups of tea. A couple of the men were smoking tobacco using a hookah. Against the wall, well within reach, were rifles belonging to the old men.
Two Jade Warriors got out of the truck and went into the small shop. They were fully armed and wearing their armor, including their battle helmets. The old men never took their eyes off of the two warriors. With slight little adjustments of position on the pillows, each old man moved a little closer to his weapon.
Sword Miguel called over to the owner of the shop, “A tea.”
The owner of the shop looked over at two of the old men. One of the old men shook his head. The owner returned to what he was doing, as if the request for tea had never been made. The exchange did not go unnoticed by the two Jade Warriors.
Sword Tomas moved under the shop’s awning, where he could watch the old men and the market. He leaned against the wall in an insolent slouch. His relaxed posture was deceiving, as his hand rested on the butt of his pistol.
Sword Miguel picked up a pillow and plopped it down in front of two of the old men. He sat down and looked at the men facing him. Their eyes had narrowed into slits. His actions were viewed as being extremely rude and disrespectful.
“You are Habib, and Saud, of the Hammidi. I am Sword Miguel.”
The use of the name Hammidi for the people led by Habib and Saud, was an informal reference rather than a tribal name. This group, like most of the other groups did not have a name for themselves. They used the name of the town in which the leaders of the group lived. It was an informal practice in the area which allowed them to refer to themselves.
It was Habib, the older of the two men, who replied, “What you do you want?”
“I’m here to talk to you.”
“I ask again, what do you want?”
Sword Miguel sighed and answered, “I want you to surrender the Hammidi to the Jade Empire.”
When the word surrender was stated, one of the other old men reached for his rifle. His hand touched it at the same time Sword Tomas placed the blade of his sword against the old man’s throat. The old man froze and slowly looked up at Sword Tomas.
“That is not a good idea,” Sword Tomas said.
The old man moved his hand away from his gun. The other men watched the action. They had been surprised by how quickly Sword Tomas had reacted, though none of them gave any sign of surprise.
Habib said, “What did you say you wanted?”
“I want you to surrender the Hammidi to the Jade Empire.”
“Why should we do that?” Saud asked.
“So that the Hammidi live to see tomorrow.”
Shaking his head sadly, Habib said, “Always soldiers come to Ulamb thinking they will conquer it. They always leave defeated.”
“We aren’t soldiers. We are warriors.”
“Go away. All you will find here is death for your people,” Habib said making a shooing gesture with his right hand.
“If I leave here without your surrender, I will return to destroy the Hammidi.”
“Leave. You will find we are not so easy to destroy. We are great fighters.”
“We are not fighters. We are warriors,” Sword Miguel said.
“So be it,” Sword Miguel said. “When next I see you, the Hammidi will be no more.”
Sword Miguel and Sword Tomas left the little shop. The old men watched them leave. The pickup truck started and drove out of town.
Habib said, “They are fools.”
“I do not know who they think they are.”
“It doesn’t matter. We will call out the men and go forth to war. We will nip at their heels like jackals taking down a buffalo. By tomorrow, another army will have left its bones on our land.”
One of the old men reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He talked into it for a minute. When he was done, he closed the phone. “I called my son, Saladar. He will get the fighters together.”
“I wish I was a little younger.”
Then the bombs fell.
After five minutes, there was silence. While the silence reigned, a handful of old men staggered out of the shop. Looking around, they could see that there was nothing left of the town of Hammidi except for half of the shop, and a small section of the central market. The shock at the destruction was overwhelming. One of the men clutched at his chest, and fell over dead. In their numbed mental state, none of the others even noticed.
Another of the old men pulled out his cell phone, thinking it was ringing. It wasn’t. His hearing was playing tricks on his mind. He was stone cold deaf. It would be days before he would be able to hear anything, and then only when it was shouted.
The dirty white pickup returned. It was followed by an older model sedan. The two vehicles came to a stop in front of the old men. Sword Miguel stepped out of the sedan and walked over to the men. He held out the keys to the sedan for Saud to take. His mouth moved, but the men could not make out what he was saying.
Seeing that they couldn’t hear him, Sword Miguel pulled his sword. He wrote on the ground, “The Hammidi are no more. Go and tell others what happened,” and resheathed his sword.
A young man, bleeding from a head wound and holding a crooked arm, came stumbling out from behind a battered wall. Sword Miguel pulled his pistol and shot him. The old man stared at the Jade Warrior in horror. He knew now that these were not like the others who had come claiming Ulamb, in the past.
The only army that had ever conquered Ulamb was the Great Horde. They had used exactly the same tactic. Each tribe was offered a simple choice: surrender or die. Those that surrendered lived. Those that didn’t died. Of each tribe that died, a handful of survivors were left to spread the word of what had happened.
Sword Miguel grabbed Saud’s hand. He dropped the keys of the sedan into it. He went over to the truck and climbed into the bed. The truck turned and drove off leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Thus it was, that the tribes of Ulamb learned that the conquest of Ulamb was underway.
Edited By TeNderLoin