A flash of light ripped through the citadels, immobilizing the frightened capital for a phosphorescent instant. The concussive blast shook all hope from the souls of the defenders.
The invasion had begun.
“Commissioner,” Rennock pushed into the Grand Hall. “All planetary defenses are down.”
The Commissioner stumbled backwards, his mouth slack and quivering. “No, that can’t be.” He tripped and fell against the table. “W—why?” He swallowed. “Why are they doing this?”
“It’s New Years Eve, Commissioner. They probably want their money.” He stepped across the room, eyes narrowing. The building trembled as the windows ignited with yellows and reds. “You remember the contract you committed this planet to? The extortion payments?” He stood close, his jaw set.
“N—not a fair agreement.” The Commissioner’s gaze darted from door to door as the blood drained from his face. “It isn’t valid.”
“I suspect they don’t see it that way.” Rennock grabbed the man’s collar and twisted while pressing him against the wall. “Did you transmit the payment?”
“The interplanetary courts won’t uphold…”
Rennock lifted, his arms like hydraulic jacks driving the trembling figure off the floor. “You can still stop this. Transmit the fifty billion.”
“We—” The commissioner struggled, his eyes bulging and wide. “We don’t have the fifty billion credits.”
Rennock threw him toward the observation windows and held him against the glass. The lights in the city below flickered and died, replaced by plumes, and flames, and mayhem. The pitch of the midnight sky roiled with shadows that were blacker still as wave after wave of landing craft spilled downward. They settled beyond the walls, belching forth countless legions of warriors.
Rennock turned toward the door. “Then you’ve sold us all into a dark bondage.”
The attack churned forward with hideous efficiency.
Rubble fell into the streets as the artillery bombardment intensified. Smoke, thick and pungent, choked the fleeing populous with the stench of burning flesh. Panic was heavy in the air. Rennock could feel it, like a dagger in the heart of the city.
A uniformed man staggered and cried out, his face twisted behind his petrified gape. Rennock caught him. “Why aren’t you at your post?”
The man blinked and stammered.
Rennock shook him. “Why have the wall defenses been abandoned?” He shoved the man back toward the attack and looked about. Figures were running through the darkness, falling, lost. “Get back to your positions, all of you! Take up your weapons and prepare for battle!”
Men hesitated, then turned.
A bolt streaked across the sky. An impact followed by explosion. The force of the blast threw Rennock to the ground. Debris rained through a rolling cloud of char and ash.
The wall had been decimated. A fissure had been carved. Nothing stood between the city and the advancing enemy.
Nothing but Rennock.
He shoved planks and boulders from atop him and stood. Grime caked his bloodied face. He sprinted to the rift.
Enemy fire was pouring in as the forces of evil moved forward. The remaining defenses were overwhelmed as bolts and artillery pounded them into silence. The cries of the wounded and dying sapped the will of the survivors. Defeat was at hand.
Rennock stepped into the breach.
He raised his fist in defiance, an oath that the struggle would not end with a whimper. He shouted, his voice like thunder raised above the deafening chaos about him. “Rally to me! Rally to me!”
A weak cry answered from the gloom. “I don’t want to die.”
“Never fear death! We’re dead already. I choose to die fighting for what is right. I’ll never let darkness quail my courage!”
Uncertain faces peeked out from their hiding places. They stared at the figure bold amongst the flames. Smoke curled about him like tentacles of doom, but he didn’t yield. Shells flashed around him, but he didn’t flinch. Men stepped toward the one whose eyes beamed with a resolute fury.
“Straighten your armor and come to me now. Raise your weapons and prepare to fight for our survival, for what we believe.”
Figures stumbled from the rubble and moved to the side of the man who would lead them. Hope had germinated and belief was raising. Their numbers multiplied, even as the legions drew near.
“Come with me.” He looked about at his followers. “Come with me. Let your faith sustain you. Fight with the truth. Leave the rest in the hands of God.”
He turned and led the charge as a new year dawned.
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