Chapter 26: The Third Proelium

(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)

The arrival of help in the form of a squad filled with Supers was unexpected but not unwelcome in any measure. Honestly, Jack thought he was all alone here on this dead island, especially after Vanguard had gone missing. Behind Sergeant Stewart Baxter, there were 8 other Supers capable of doing something great. Suddenly, Jack could feel hope rising in his heart. There might be a chance not only for the survival, but to complete this mission, too.

He had no idea why these Project Dead Kings operators didn’t retreat along with the rest of the soldiers, but boy, was he glad or what that they didn’t do that. No need to ask for their reasons, either.

Seeing the enraged Guardian Beast roaring in the distance, Stewart solemnly ordered his squad into position.

“Alright, we all know what to do. Mr. Lugal, please hand over the laser designator to Gunnery Sergeant here, he’ll take care of it. And what’s in that bag on the ground?”

“HMX. What Vanguard and I could scrounge up on the way.”

Stewart nodded grimly while aiming the anti-materiel rifle at the snarling Guardian Beast. His expression wasn’t so good, which was the same for the operators under his command. The bullet wounds were healing quite rapidly as the purple robe shimmered over its body like the Northern Lights.

The angry eyes of Humbaba turned towards them. The ugly creature gritted its teeth, fangs, whatever, and licks of flame billowed out menacingly like the overflowing magma. It swung the metal club like a baseball pitcher and began to take large strides. The ground visibly shook under the enormous creature’s angry stomps.

“Damn, I hit it with two Modified HEAT rounds back to back and it still moves around? This might get ugly. Okay, Gunney, take the backpack with you. Chuck, you said that ULF transmitter is still functional. Time to make it count, man.”

The Gunnery Sergeant, a fresh-faced teen with a swimmer’s physique, quickly moved, taking the laser designator from Jack and retrieving the HMX. The Super named Chuck went with him, both of them disappearing into the haze fast and efficiently. Their destination was somewhere high up to give them a good vantage point to paint the target with the laser.

Stewart was not done with his quick-fire orders, though.

“Okay, Leroy. You take the fireteam 2 and flank this SOB from the West. Lopez, you’re with him. The rest, on me. Lugal, you too.”

The 7 men squad split into two. The guy named Leroy was a short, stocky youth with a boxer’s chin. Besides the semi-auto rifle, he held numerous grenades all over his combat gear. He went with Lopez, the Latin girl, and two others, and headed into the haze. Stewart led the remaining three and Jack and approached the angry Guardian Beast.

Stewart and his men felt tired and scared but gritted their teeth, still fully committed to the mission. On their way here, they were engaged in a brutal battle with an ocean of metal golems. They faced countless dangerous situations. They were pushed to the brink.

But then, just like magic, the damnable things just suddenly disappeared. The squad’s forward march was no longer hindered. Not only that, they faced no more opposition while collecting equipment off fallen soldiers. Ammo, rations, intact radio including ULF transmitters – all recovered on their way.

It was a stroke of good fortune finding the transmitter, Stewart reasoned. Maybe the heavens were looking after them, opening a path for them or something.

“Where’s Nico Gavalas and Vanguard?”

Stewart asked as he quickly scanned the battlefield, not seeing any usable cover for himself or his men. He wasn’t sure whether any of that could be helpful, but it didn’t hurt to look for them in advance.

“Nico’s dead and Vanguard is missing,” replied Jack.

Stewart nodded in understanding and said nothing further.

Jack expanded his Battle Sense towards Humbaba, trying to get an in-depth reading of the creature. He was too scared and unnerved to do this before but hell, better late than never.

The moment the redoubtable Battle Sense touched Humbaba, Jack was nearly overcome with a deathly chill. He was utterly shocked to sense not a being made up of tangible, solid matter, but entirely consisting of wailing, screaming souls. Realizing this, his heart began to pound madly, his primal instincts telling him to run as far as he could. This monster was beyond the scope of human understanding. Its composition was beyond supernatural. It was truly a divine beast, crafted by beings occupying a completely different, much higher realms.

He forcibly ignored the desire to run. He had to. Even if he could, where could he possibly go? Rationally speaking, he was on an island and there was only a finite amount of land mass he could run on. Besides, this thing wasn’t going to just let him leave. No, the irreconcilable enmity had been created already. This in-coming battle was to the death. Jack had no choice but to fight and believe in the lethality of the modern military technology to deal the final strike.

A gamble of a lifetime, in other words. With his life on the line.

Just as he was telling himself he had to fight, the Battle Sense was repelled by that purple robe, the garment or whatever, of light. That was it, Jack couldn’t pry anymore. The brief glimpse into the physiology of the monster was too short for any insightful information, but it sure was just enough to seriously spook him. The worries of failing to injure the Beast entered his mind, only to quickly go away when he remembered that Stewart’s bullets managed to harm it, albeit not fatally.

Rearranging his thoughts, Jack gripped his halberd tightly, and searched through his memories. He may not be as powerful as Gilgamesh back then, but he could call on the knowledge of the battles and suss out the correct way of surviving this crisis.

“How long will the jets take to reach us?” Asked Jack.

“Depends on a couple of factors, but it’s an Alert 7 situation, so between five to eight minutes,” replied Stewart.

Jack shook his head wryly. That long, huh.

An Alert 7 was a code word describing the level of combat readiness for a group of persons, in this case, Navy crewmen. Lower the number, higher the state of alertness was. Usually, when in the Alert 7 phase the pilots and their jets were already loaded onto the catapult launchers aboard the aircraft carriers, ready to launch within a couple of minutes as soon as the word came through. Chuck was going to send that very word within seconds, so taking into account the flight time, Stewart’s estimates were pretty accurate.

“Don’t attack the legs. It’s not going to work. Concentrate on taking the weapon away – that thing connects the Guardian Beast to the Tree’s endless supply of vitality. As long as Humbaba continues to hold that metal club, we’ll all die within minutes.”

With those words spoken aloud, Jack dashed forward. He deliberately did not use his full speed. He wasn’t trying to kill it with everything he got, but to waste time and drag the battle on as long as possible.

Humbaba, unaware of the schemes cooked up by the lowly humans, roughly ran to meet Jack’s approach in the middle. The ground and the vines quaked under the heavy footsteps, the world seemingly shaking like a leaf caught in a tempest. The giant creature swung that massive club without a single shred of hesitation.

Jack used his versatile Battle Sense to accurately perceive the path of the club. His pupils contracted, inwardly thinking how such a huge thing could move that fast. Of course, he thought that while dodging to his right as if his life depended on it. Incidentally, it did.

It was a correct call. Humbaba was holding the club in its right limb, so in order to follow him, the creature had to turn to its left and thereby exposing the arm that held the weapon.

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This created an ample enough target for the operators of the Project. And they weren’t going to miss this chance.


Stewart ordered in his loudest voice.

Then the riot of fireworks began; bullets, fireballs, arrows of light, columns of water and raging winds slammed into the unguarded arm of the Beast with the kind of force that would severely wound even Gilgamesh were he to face it head on.

More importantly, this deadly storm wasn’t some random, aimless spread one might have seen from a cheap action movie either. The attacks were unceasingly accurate and they were focused on one area of Humbaba.

Among the explosions of color and heat, fresh blood spilled to the ground. The Guardian Beast frowned unhappily and roared in anger, evidently not too badly affected by the barrage of attacks. It turned its attention to the fireteam responsible for its ire, only to receive yet another from the West, again distracting it. Leroy’s team was doing its job taking turns to distract the Beast splendidly.

Seizing upon this brief window of distraction, Stewart loaded his AM rifle and fired another round, this time aimed at the eyes of Humbaba. With his powers, The Perfect Aim, there was no way he’d miss from this range. In him, flowed the blood of Howard Hill, one of the most decorated archers of the modern times. With this power, Stewart could hit a penny from a hundred yards out with a pistol, so hitting the big, intimidating eyes of the Guardian Beast with a highly precise weapon like anti-materiel rifle was too damn easy.

The Modified HEAT round hit the right eye and exploded, causing the neck of the monster to snap back from the impact. More blood danced in the air.

Jack saw a very good opening here and dashed back near the creature before it could recover. He swung the halberd hard and struck the metal club with everything he had. The resulting sound was as clear and crisp as a ringing church bell but a thousand times louder.

The halberd issued creaking noise as it bent under the pressure. Jack’s brows tightened as he pushed, intending on blowing the metal club into the sky.

Humbaba’s left hand was covering its face, but it still could see Jack via its left eye. The monster snorted angrily and resisted, instead pushing Jack back with its awesome physical power. In the end, he lost in the game of strength and was shoved back, his body lifting up slightly into the air as he hastily retreated. The halberd regained its former shape, but he noted that the edges were damaged slightly.

What fearsome power!!

Jack gritted his teeth in exasperation. Humbaba was supposedly at its weakest, yet it was this strong? He expected the level of difficulty to an extent, but Jack had caught his opponent off guard. His attack should have at least make it flinch. Not only it didn’t do that, Humbaba was able to force him away quite easily.

Jack took some distance away from the monster skipping on the ground like a gazelle and quickly regained his posture.

Stewart was about to give another order when a garbled transmission from Chuck came through. The message to the destroyer off the coast had been delivered and the target was lit up with laser like a Christmas tree. The help was coming. All they had to do was to hold out for a little longer.

Five more minutes!!” Stewart barked out at his men and wielded his large caliber sniper rifle. He squeezed the trigger and with a huge recoil, the bullet exploded out of the lengthy barrel and struck the wrist of Humbaba. The damage was far greater this time and the creature winced. The grip on the weapon loosened significantly and taking this opening, Jack rapidly closed the gap. Humbaba’s right eye hadn’t recovered yet so while its attention was robbed away, this was as good an opportunity as any to knock that metal club out of its grasp and thereby severing the connection it had with the Tree.

The Guardian Beast was seemingly a step slower in responding to the unfolding event. Jack’s halberd struck the weapon at an angle and there was the sensation of the movement he was looking for. The metal club was shoved out of Humbaba’s grasp and definitely beyond its reach.

The elated look on Jack’s face lasted for half a second before crumbling apart in a spectacularly painful fashion. Humbaba reached out with its other hand at a speed he couldn’t even trace and the creature nimbly grabbed the club. And before Jack could say, “oh sh*t,” it swung the massive weapon down.

Jack was able to offset some of the impact by placing his halberd near his torso and angling it. But in all honesty, that could only negate probably less than 20% of the immense force behind the monster’s strike.

He felt the kind of pain he had experienced only once before, back at the highway R-35 Northbound. No, this one seemed several times greater. The pain he felt when the bus exploded and shoved him right through the side of a delivery van, the pain of his entire being dying, the pain of watching everyone he knew burning away – this one surpassed them all.

Jack’s innards tumbled viciously. He threw up a huge mouthful of blood as his helpless body slammed against a protruding piece of earth, smashing it apart. The momentum didn’t slow down and he kept on flying, hitting the metal vine. Incredibly, the vine split in half showering the air with the sticky blue liquid and a million bits of sheared metal. Jack continued to fly even after that, until finally, he was flung out of the Central Park altogether and landed on the ruined remains of a tall skyscraper across the street.

The impact was so brilliantly harsh and tremendous, the section of the unstable building collapsed, creating massive billowing plumes of dust. Jack tumbled within the fragile but heavy debris until the momentum of the hit finally weakened and he could stop his body from sliding and colliding with other surrounding objects.

He then spat out another huge chunk of blood mixed with bits of flesh on the ground. Coughing from the choking dust and sharp, unceasing pain, Jack tried to get up but his entire body shook from the shock, refusing to heed his commands. It felt like every single bone in his body was either broken or shattered. He simply remained slumped, propped up by the wall of the building.

But even then, the gravity brought him down. He fell limply over on the ground, unable to breathe. He forcibly rolled on to his back, staring into the night sky above visible via the gaps in the building’s floors and ceilings. Jack was stunned into a total silence from the impact.

He couldn’t really figure out what just happened. No, he remembered just fine how he ended up in this sorry state. But what he couldn’t really understand was where he had made the critical mistake.

Did I underestimate Humbaba?! But that’s not possible. I…. I know better than anyone how terrifying that thing is. No, I didn’t….

No. I did. I thought it was doable with my current powers. My current abilities because I had backup. I thought it was possible to kill the monster. I…. I was conceited.

I mean, it just switched its hand from right to left. It’s something so damn simple. How the hell did I overlook something like that? How did my Battle Sense fail me so badly?

Jack grimaced as the pain wracked his chest. He was sure that his internal organs were all badly damaged. There was little doubt that he was dying. And only from getting struck once. Just one time, and all his red soul enhancements and the Kevlar survival suit and whatnots couldn’t protect him.

Jack didn’t even have any strength left to laugh at this absurd situation. No wonder his instincts were telling him to run. His body continued to tremble in coldness, getting harder and harder to breathe. The only thing still functioning properly was his mind, more or less, and his Battle Sense.

Now, in this moment where his life was tottering on the very edge, the endlessly useful ability seemed to stretch as far as humanly possible. Jack found himself seeing into the far distance, past the obstructions and the dusty haze. What he saw was the desperate battle between the Dead Kings operators and the Guardian Beast.

It was only a single blink, a proverbial “less than a second” gap of time, yet the situation had deteriorated beyond saving. With Jack violently ejected from the battle ground, the mere augmented Supers couldn’t do much against the force of nature that was Humbaba.

Bullets were flying, several Superpowers were attacking the monster, yet it withstood everything, like a passerby brushing off the biting ants on his shoe.

Jack’s Battle Sense picked out the supposedly invisible laser still tagging the Guardian Beast but the promised missile strike was still nowhere to be seen. No, it was far too early. But at this rate, it wouldn’t even matter anymore.

Humbaba swung the metal club. The ground where it hit exploded. Bodies of the soldiers flew to all directions. More blood and mangled limbs showered the land red.

Separated fireteams converged on a single point to increase the lethality but that only meant the monster didn’t have to waste its energy chasing around the irritating queries around.

Leroy’s myriad of grenades danced in the air, expertly controlled and manipulated by his Superpower, their explosive powers solely focused at harming Humbaba. The dozens of explosions and flames seemed to swallow up the beast but the result was the same as before. Nothing worked for long; its wounds, deep or superficial, all closed up fast as the purplish garment did something magical. The bleeding stopped and the monster was back to its healthy state.

It was…. hopeless.

Jack felt his body go numb. This sensation was quite similar to him. It was just over a month ago that he was subjected to the very same thing. He felt eminently familiar with it, as if this feeling of death was an old friend coming to visit him.

Of course, Jack didn’t want to die. Not yet. He hadn’t achieved his goals yet. Everything he did, all the hard work he put in, he couldn’t afford to waste them, see them become just as meaningless as the sacrifices of the soldiers this night.

He couldn’t bear to see his second chance fade away like this.

Jack, in his desperation, asked for a power and had miraculously received it. Yet, in the end, he was proven to be still powerless and weak to do anything substantial. In the grand scheme of things, he was still…. nothing. His powers, whether it was given to him by Gilgamesh, his mother, Mylorne Akkad – or awoken by pure stroke of unlikely luck, amounted to so little that he was laying here, in his own pool of blood, dying a slow, agonizing death.

How unfair was this? The fate forced him to act even though he wanted nothing to do with it. And now, he was getting crushed under the immense weight of the fate’s cruel manipulation.

The faces of his family flashed by. His mother, his father, his sister. His grandparents, the uncles and aunts – all moving past like a revolving lantern display. Jack knew that he should’ve called them. He wanted to ask Min-jung and Bob and Dana about so many things, but at this rate….

Then, it was the faces of his friends. Nick, who was still lying in the bed comatose. Sue and her crying face. Nick’s parents, trying to stay strong but failing. The faces belonging to the parents of his dead classmates. All crying, lamenting, cursing, praying.

Jack felt beyond pissed off. His anger began to boil hard, even more incensed than ever before. Even more than on that day, on that piece of melting tarmac.

He remembered his sworn oath, that he’d get revenge no matter what. But he was faltering. He just couldn’t do it. How pathetic is this, he angrily muttered. He didn’t want to accept it. No, he refused to accept it. His expression twisted in the uncontrollable rage as this thick, dark emotion seethed and coiled like a blood-red Eastern dragon, a snake purely made out of resentment and anguish.

The exploding rage clouded his judgment. His Battle Sense quaked and went through an imperceptible change. Jack failed to notice as his anger took over everything.

Now transformed, Battle Sense began to physically materialize in the real world. The gray and drab world filled with dust brightened in the crimson light show. Arcs of red lightning-like sparks buzzed and whirred around him. Jack’s body was surrounded by this lightning storm, lifting him up from the ground where he lay.

The torn, collapsing building cocooning Jack until now lit up in bright red, and as the squall of blood-hued wind rose, the concrete and bricks and metal snapped. The arcing red energy disintegrated the falling debris, not even leaving behind specks of dust. Before long, Jack was standing on the spot where he was dying, the ruined building completely disintegrating into tiny little molecules.

In the skies above, the atmosphere slowly cracked apart and the world that was not of this one appeared. There, the night sky was filled with gloomy red clouds, fast moving as if they were on crack cocaine. What was bizarre was that there was a single black feather floating near these red clouds, slowly descending and entering the physical world.

Humbaba felt the change first. It stopped squeezing the life out of a Dead Kings operator trapped in its considerable hand and stared dumbfoundedly at the sky. Soon, its expression became cold and hard, an intangible fear creeping in.

This is…. could it be….? Is Gilgamesh…. breaking the Cursed Shackles on his own? No, that feather – that is undoubtedly…..

Humbaba’s expression turned seriously hard. Its eyes quickly scanned the battlefield to find out where Jack was.

Meanwhile, surrounded by the arcing sparks of red light, Jack’s anger-infused Battle Sense raged inside his body and miraculously, every single red soul stored inside his Soul Sphere was drawn out. He watched with crazed eyes as souls poured all over his body like a red waterfall, restoring the numerous fatal wounds in an instant.

And when all his injuries were just about completely healed up, Humbaba dashed out from the swirling dust and landed with a heavy thud before Jack.

Gilgamesh, you foolish mortal, do you wish to destroy both this world and the Divine Realm? Cease this stubbornness immediately!!

Jack didn’t know what this monster was talking about, nor did he give a crap. His eyes burned in the crimson color. The leftover souls circled around him like the winds of a category 5 tornado.

Seeing this change, Humbaba’s face became even colder.

Know your place!!

It roared loudly and pounced at Jack, ready to pummel him into the ground with the huge metal club.

In that moment, in that millisecond, the red soul tornado rapidly condensed into a single object – a spear. A blood-red crimson spear. Jack’s eyes fell on this weapon made of souls, and he firmly grasped it. He didn’t know what it was, and again, he didn’t care. He just wanted to slay this damnable creature that made him feel like a weakling, a failure, a total waste of time and a liar who couldn’t even keep his word.

He threw the spear, aimed at Humbaba’s core, its heart, where that damn stone tablet was.

Because of the momentum, Humbaba could not dodge this. And because of the attack it performed while pouncing on Jack, it couldn’t block the spear either. It could only helplessly watch as the red soul spear slammed into its chest, ripping out huge chunks of meat, scattering the souls trapped in the stone tablet. The purple garment was ripped apart as well, dissipating into the night sky.

Roaring in pain, it was now the turn of Humbaba to feel what it was like to be thrown away. It flew backwards and crashed loudly only a few yards from where it was busy killing the augmented Supers. A large crater was formed where its huge body landed, and the ground exploded with the sharp bits of broken earth, rock and metal. Even the metal vines danced in the air from the sheer, brutal weight of the impact.

Most of Humbaba’s chest was ripped away, revealing the stone tablet that was gleaming in golden-purple hue. But now, there were several thick cracks visible on the surface. Jack’s aim wasn’t quite good enough and could only graze the surface of the core, the stone tablet.

Humbaba grimaced angrily as it forced the torn, destroyed body to stand. The purple garment slowly wrapped around the creature and the huge wound was starting to close up by itself.

The reason was simple – the metal club was still within its grasp. As long as it held that, the near-limitless vitality of the Tree of the End would heal all of its wounds.

Jack, on the other hand, fell on one knee, out of breath. The arcs of red light no longer surrounded him. His own injuries were healed, but that didn’t mean his stamina was restored. In that final attack, he had emptied his Soul Sphere, putting every fiber of his being into it.

In other words, he was pooped out from the overexertion.

Humbaba laughed. It was the distinctive laughter of a victor.

Too bad, there was a pair of soldiers hiding by the top of a metal vine, lying on their stomachs and watching everything that had unfolded with bloodshot and angry eyes. One of them was holding the laser designator.

And…. there was an eerie silence, a calm before the storm. Then, from a distance, a throaty whistle in the sky, reverberating between the collapsing buildings of the Manhattan. Humbaba cocked an ear, trying to figure out what was going on.

And by the time he caught the thin whistling sound in the air, it was too late. A white BGM-109 cruise missile, otherwise known as the Tomahawk, slammed into the open chest of Humbaba where the stone tablet was still exposed. And then the second Tomahawk hit the target less than a breath later.

The resulting explosions were incredible. The orange and black mushroom cloud rose high up in the air and the countless debris fell all over the landscape like lethal drops of rainfall. Even Jack could acutely feel the awesome and terrible heat while he was so far away. Each of the missile strikes was more powerful than Jack’s own red soul spear thrust, which was already quite something else in itself.

When the massive dust storm finally cleared, all those surviving could clearly see Humbaba’s upper torso had been torn apart, and there was basically nothing left other than the stone tablet and its lower limbs. Even the tablet was beginning to crumble apart. The huge metal club was no longer held by it, having been blown away from the monster’s tight grasp by the massive explosion. If it wanted to recover, it’d take a very, very long time.

Jack’s eyes sharpened. Humbaba hadn’t died yet but if he could somehow land one more blow, then it’d be game over. He just knew it.

The boiling rage hadn’t been appeased in his heart. No, he was still angry. And now, a perfect opportunity had presented itself. How could he miss this chance?

Jack’s Battle Sense exploded out one more time, allowing him to find the missing halberd somewhere near him. He willed his tired, spent body to move. Picking the heavy weapon, Jack ran as fast as he could and arrived at Humbaba’s exposed core, the stone tablet.

With a primal roar, Jack swung the polearm hard.

The blade of the weapon collided with the garment of purple light first. Somehow, this accursed protective energy barrier kept on coming back regardless of how severe the impact was, managing to save the monster every time, but not today. The purple light shattered into pieces as Jack’s meaty halberd slammed into this energy barrier.

The shattering remnant of the garment couldn’t halt the desperate momentum of the halberd and it magnificently collided with the tablet. The numerous cracks widened and with a screeching, keening sound, the tablet powerfully exploded, shoving Jack away. His expression twisted from the pain, but the corners of his lips curved upwards in a vicious, victorious grin.

Humbaba, even though no longer possessing a mouth, issued a painful, sorrowful roar. It’s remaining body slowly disintegrated along with the tablet which turned into sand. A sudden strong wind kicked up from out of nowhere and the sand blew away, but not before the defeated monster had its final say.

This is not over, the King of Mortals!! As long as the Tree of the End stands, I shall be resurrected and the true divinity shall return to this planet!!

“Oh, just shut the hell up,” groaned Jack as he wiped the trace of blood from his lips.

By the time the harsh winds stopped blowing, Humbaba was gone without a trace. Now, only the solitary Tree of the End stood below the broken sky filled with ominous red clouds. The black feather remained floating in the air, unmoved by the events on the ground.

Jack instinctively looked up and watched as the feather fell on his palm. It then directly entered his Soul Sphere. He didn’t feel anything when this happened. Nothing felt odd or out of place. Rather, this feather made him feel safe. His anger cooled rapidly because of the calming effect.

What Humbaba had said remained as a puzzle in his mind, but for now, Jack would not pay it any mind. He still had to bring this Tree down.

He rubbed his chest, checking to make sure nothing ached or hurt. He was fine. Completely fine, other than feeling exhausted and fatigued. He nodded slightly, somewhat thankful that red souls came out all on their own to help him in this dire time of need. Then it dawned on him.

Oh, wait a second. Did I just….?!

Jack paled after realizing what he had done. He had used up all his reserves of souls. Meaning, he used up the souls of his classmates. He had never touched them because…. it just didn’t feel right to him. And now, they were all used up. And that included Emily’s soul, too.

He froze from the realization. Then a dark, wretched emptiness swept him up. The ones he made the promise to, with the exception of Nick, were gone. Every single one of them. And now he wouldn’t even be able to see Emily’s face anymore. Didn’t matter that they were all in a state of screaming agony – they were with him. But not anymore.

Jack held his head as the feeling of sadness welled up in him, tears forming at the edges of his eyes. In his melancholic loneliness, he failed to notice other presences approaching him.

If it weren’t for the unbelieving, celebratory voices, he’d remain oblivious to it all.

“Lugal!! You did it!!”

Stewart Baxter cried out heartily as he shouldered heavily wounded Leroy.

Jack wiped the tears off his face and faced the group of survivors before him. Needlessly to say, all of them looked pretty terrible. Their once pristine, fancy combat gear were in tatters; Stewart’s prized AM rifle bent in a bad way. Numerous cuts and bruises, bleeding all over. Leroy had his right arm twisted the wrong way. Looked bad. Real bad.

Out of the squad of nine men and women, only five had survived, counting the two that manned the laser and the ULF transmitter. Lopez, Chuck, Leroy, the unnamed Gunnery Sergeant and Stewart; the five.

Lopez looked at the remaining members of the squad, the people she grew up with, and couldn’t help but grin bitterly at the cost of this mission. Her dead friends and comrades’ bodies turned to dust from the Tomahawk strikes and she couldn’t even give them a proper funeral.

Jack and the operators exchanged silent glances, not sure of what to say under the circumstances. One of the topics that floated on top of Stewart’s mind was the unexpected Tomahawk cruise missile strikes but he quickly shelved it. Regardless of what prompted the change, the job was done already, so for now, it couldn’t be helped. What was done, was done.

Truth was, the missiles were supposed to be fired from the passing fighter jets. Their powers wouldn’t be as great, but the dangers to them were lower, ensuring the higher level of their survivability. Yet it ended up being a pair of cruise missiles, one of the most powerful of its kind, ending this battle. Not one person here was told of this change. Not one here could imagine that the retreating soldiers made a hasty, terrified report of the monumental magnitude of the challenge at hand and it influenced the decision making process at the command center.

Taking a deep breath to calm his conflicted mind, Jack exhaled slightly before asking out aloud.

“Well, let’s celebrate later. It’s not over yet. We still need to get rid of the Tree’s core. Do we have the necessary HMX to do it?”

Stewart nodded, pointing at the man next to him, specifically at his backpack. “We still have enough to blow up a f*cking building. Let’s finish this.”

(Howard Hill bio,.)

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