<== ==>

Herod opened her mouth to speak, but Amalek grasped the situation a quarter-second quicker. “Everybody into the tunnels!” he screamed. “Now, now, now!”

It was havoc. Hundreds of girls ran as fast as their legs would carry them. A few went airborne. Herod kept pace with Lucifera, who moved well for a woman with a limp. 

Everyone made it in… except for the injured, and the few women good-hearted and foolish enough to carry an injured bird. Zabda tried to push her way through, but Amalek blocked her. “We have to help them!” she screamed.

“It’s too late,” Amalek shouted, holding her by the waist.

It was. Seconds after he spoke, pieces of the Isaiah rained down on the mesa like an orbital bombardment.

Chunks of metal the size of a person, a refrigerator, a stallion, a car, a house, all pounded the surface. Deafening roars sounded with every impact. The pieces were endless, a barrage that would have killed absolutely anything standing on the mesa. The cave mouth shook and rattled, but the stone held.

It ended as quickly as it began. 250,000 tons of what was once a proud warship of BEACON’s 9th Strike Group lay scattered across the mesa like a graveyard. There was no way any of the wounded, or anyone aboard, could have survived.

It was an eternity and a half before anyone broke the stunned silence. “Wh-what just happened?” muttered Amalek, the first to overcome shock enough to speak. “The sky… came to life? But that’s impossible.”

Herod looked at Lucifera, who was trembling in her armor. “Orders, legata?” Herod asked firmly. This was not the time to freeze up. 

“Y-yeah… orders. Uh… okay.” Lucifera shook her head. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a ship go down… Astra’s Heart, there was an entire legion aboard…”

“Yes indeed,” said a voice thoughtfully. “A real tragedy has befallen BEACON.” It was Anna. When had she gotten here?

“Do you know something about this?” Herod asked sharply, rounding on the Mater Sicario.

Anna replied with a shrug. “I know that this mesa isn’t a safe place. Soon those riders will be back- with a force much bigger than the one they attacked with.” She pointed to the cave mouth. “They’ll come from the sky, in numbers enough to block out the sun. Plasma will fly so thickly that none of you will be able to squeeze through. You’ll fight bravely, you’ll kill many of theirs… but the 119th Lightning Legion will fall, one after another.” She was loose and casual, detached, like it didn’t matter in the slightest what happened to them. Maybe it didn’t.

Herod snarled and grabbed the Mater’s collar. “Then help us,” she breathed. “I don’t know what your game is, but you’re BEACON too. Unless we’re so well and truly screwed that not even you can do anything.”

Anna’s sole sleepy eye rounded on Herod and she grinned. “Remove your hand. You’ll need it in the battle to come.”

The threat was delivered so plainly that it simply had to be credible. Herod obliged and Anna chuckled. “Legata. Call a meeting of your legion’s leadership.”

“S-sure.” Lucifera glanced at the girls, still crowded in the cave’s entrance. “There’s a large antechamber below- Sheba, set up camp and tend to personnel. Ruth, account for what the dead and wounded. Amalek, set up a system of alerts and defenses around the entrances to the tunnel complexes. I want as much notice as possible that the enemy is about to hit us. Tamar, send your scouts to learn what they can outside, but tell them not to range too far.” Her voice gained confidence as she spoke. “After that, the four of you will meet with me and we’ll discuss our next move.”

“C-capem, legata,” stuttered Amalek.

<== ==>

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